New year, new laws in Connecticut

January 1, 2009 6:27:52 PM PST
Key provisions of a state contracting reform law and mandated Medicaid coverage for hospice services are among a handful of new laws that took effect on Thursday. A 14-member State Contracting Standards Board is officially established. The group will review, monitor and audit state agency purchasing. That and other reforms to state procurement practices stem from the corruption scandal that drove former Gov. John G. Rowland from office in 2004.

"These provisions will send a clear message that Connecticut will assess and approve contractors and contracts with a fair and even hand," said Rowland's successor, Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, a Milford Democrat and co-chairwoman of the legislature's Government Administration and Elections Committee, said she believes the new standards will make state purchasing more transparent and prevent "embarrassing and expensive contracting problems."

With the new year, Connecticut loses its standing as one of the last states that does not cover hospice services under its Medicaid program.

Previously, the state offered Medicaid-funded home health care services, but not all of the hospice-related services, which often include end-of-life care for patients in their homes.

Ronny Knight, senior vice president of planning and reimbursement at The Connecticut Hospice Inc., the largest hospice provider in the state, said the Connecticut Association of Home Care and Hospice helped to draft the legislation "The members felt that it was very important that this gap in coverage, so to speak, was eliminated," he said.

While The Connecticut Hospice Inc. has been able to rely on donations to care for patients without insurance coverage, Knight said this expansion of Medicaid will allow his agency to provide services to more people living in nursing homes.

"Anything that helps the hospice providers reach more patients and care for more patients is important," he said.

Other new laws include:
- The state's hourly minimum wage will climb from $7.65 to $8.

Rell, a Republican, had vetoed the increase, but the Democratic-controlled legislature overrode her decision.

The state Department of Labor estimates that last year 65,000 Connecticut workers were paid at or below the state's minimum wage.

That's about 3.5 percent of the approximately 1.8 million employed workers in the state.

"This very modest increase will help hard-working people put food on the table," said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

- Health insurers will now be required to cover physical, speech and occupational therapies for autism spectrum disorders if a person's insurance policy covers the same treatment for other conditions.

- Connecticut motorists will be able to buy two new special license plates for $60. With the purchase of a "Support Our Troops" plate, $45 of the fee will benefit the nonprofit Connecticut Support Our Troops Inc., which helps soldiers, their families and veterans.

The second plate benefits the Connecticut Nursing Foundation, with $45 of the fee earmarked to raise awareness of the profession and provide nursing education scholarships.

- Notices now must be posted in vehicle repair shops, on appraisals and estimates, and on auto insurance identification cards informing customers they have a right to choose their own licensed garage to fix their vehicles.

A repair shop that participates in an insurance company's repair program cannot fix a vehicle under the program unless the insured driver acknowledges in writing that he or she is aware they have the right to choose another garage.


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