Connecticut ‘rookies’ get prosthetics bill passed unanimously on their first try
Herb Kolodny of Hamden and Brenda Novak of Branford were newbies at dealing with politics of the General Assembly and its legislative process.
To their surprise, their bill to require private insurers to cover high-tech prosthetic limbs, as Medicare does, passed both houses unanimously, in the midst of tense budget negotiations at the end of a short session.
Along the way, they found allies not only in the assembly chambers, but among the cluster of lobbyists in the hallways of the state Capitol.
“I was in shock because we were surrounded with lobbyists, and when they told us that we got unanimous voting in the Senate and the House and we’re a couple of rookies here … and we got it on our first try, it began to dawn on us what we’d done,” Kolodny said.
The bill, SB 376, passed the House 148-0 after a roll call taken at 10:42 p.m. on May 9, the last day of the session, which is mainly devoted to budget issues. It passed the Senate 36-0 on May 4. The bill earlier was approved by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee 21-0 and the Appropriations Committee 42-4.
Kolodny, co-founder with Novak of the Connecticut Amputee Network — both have lost legs above the knee — said that if it weren’t for the advice and assistance of lobbyists, “we would never have known” how negotiations were going.
“There were these professional lobbyists around us that jumped up and [would] actually run interference for us, grab a legislator and got updates,” Kolodny said. “The lobbyists knew where they were hiding, so we knew where to find them so they became part of our extended team. We were not alone.”
He said the helpful lobbyists included those from AT&T, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and St. Francis Hospital.
“In our case, lobbyists turned out to be the good guys,” Novak said.
“We’ve been talking about it over the last few days and we got so much feedback. … To see it passed in one session and especially in a short sessions that’s focused on the budget,” she said. They had been told that it’s common for a bill to take multiple years to get passed.
While the pair has gotten positive signals that Gov. Dannel Malloy will sign the bill, his spokesman said the bill had not been sent to the governor’s office yet and the language would have to be reviewed. “All that I have heard is confidence on the part of legislators that the governor will sign,” Kolodny said. They were asked to send an email stating their case.
The bill mandates full coverage for prostheses that have a microprocessor in the knee that can assist in balance and gait and sense if, for example, the person stumbles. Novak paid $21,000 out of pocket for her leg, which cost $65,000, including the cost of the prosthetist’s services.
Kolodny said his only preparation was a seven-month-long training program by Connecticut Partners in Policymaking, a program to help people with disabilities learn to advocate for themselves. It is run by UConn Health’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.
“It prepared me for what I needed to do,” Kolodny said. “It teaches you enough to get started but you really don’t know what you’re doing.” He said that when Novak joined him, “she added a tremendous amount of marketing and public relations skills.”
They credited two original co-sponsors, state Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia, and state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., D-Branford, as well as state Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, with leading the effort. Kennedy lost a leg to cancer when he was 12.
Assuming Malloy signs the bill, “the next step will be to educated medical providers, including hospitals, physical therapists, doctors, nurses, prosthetists … so that they know what the rules are about what medical notes are necessary to approve a prosthesis,” Novak said. The law would go into effect Jan. 1.
“We also want to be an educational resource for amputees,” Novak said, using “a network of peer advisers and peer mentors,” certified by the Amputee Coalition of America. The mentors will “match their gender or disability or whatever they need,” she said.
Kolodny said there are more than 1,800 new amputees each year in Connecticut, “half or more than half of the time that’s a diabetic patient if they’re an adult.” He said the bill is “for them and the fact that they will have a good quality of life.”