Advocates for the Poor Push for Health Insurance Coverage
HARTFORD, CT — Advocates of the poor, elderly, and working parents stood Saturday in the lobby of the state Capitol and asked for lawmakers to fully restore funding for two health programs: Medicare Savings Program and Husky A for parents.
The Medicare Savings Program, which was initially cut and then restored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers after hundreds of phone calls from their constituents, would need about $130 million. It expires June 30 and the two-year budget didn’t fund fiscal year 2019.
The program helps low-income adults, who make less than 211 percent of the federal poverty level, pay for their Part B Medicare benefits.
Part B covers things like doctor visits, lab tests and outpatient care. Those earning less than 211 percent of the poverty level, or about $25,624 a year, can receive additional help covering co-pays, deductibles, and prescriptions.
The Republican budget proposal released earlier this week would fully fund the Medicare Savings Program.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Saturday that he’s confident they can find the money to do that on a bipartisan basis.
However, the $16 million for 13,000 low income working parents who are set to lose their coverage as of Jan. 1, 2019, is still not something any lawmaker has committed to restoring.
Sheldon Toubman, an attorney with New Haven Legal Assistance Association, said 300 parents have already been cut from the program. He said federal law protected the rest for another year because they were working.
“We have not heard that either side is committed to restoring Husky A,” Toubman said.
Sally Grossman, a Windsor resident with two children, said that Husky A allowed her to receive coverage in 2012 when she was pregnant with her first child. She said it was a good thing she had it because she went into preterm labor and was hospitalized. Without the coverage she would have gone into debt and would have been unable to start a business.
She said there are 13,000 parents who are facing termination of their benefits and will be forced to choose poverty or unaffordable health insurance costs. The notices went out in January. The bipartisan budget reduced the income threshold from 155 percent to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Federal law required the state to continue to provide coverage for this population through Jan. 1, 2019 if they were employed.
“People die if they don’t have access to health care,” Grossman said. “In a state like Connecticut that takes pride in the health of its citizens it should provide more care, not less.”
It would cost $16 million to restore health insurance benefits for this population.
“We assert that it is morally unconscionable and indefensible not to restore health care coverage to these working poor parents, while the state has recently received over $1 billion in unanticipated tax receipts, creating substantial surpluses that should be used to provide basic human services for those in need,” a letter to legislative leaders from about 50 members of the clergy and faith communities reads.
Aresimowicz said they’ve been trying to come up with the money to do it, but he’s not certain where they would find the money at the moment.
He said it will come up in budget negotiations.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said their priority when they were putting together the budget back in October was to make sure they didn’t cut off any health insurance to children on Husky, which is the state’s Medicaid program.
She said protecting the children is still a priority and if they can do anything about their parents then they will, but could make no guarantees.
Budget decisions to date guarantee that all low-income children have health insurance benefits.
“I don’t know where it lands,” Aresimowicz added Monday. “But there’s an overall goal to fix it. “
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said if Democrats were able to write a budget in a vacuum “there’s no question Husky A would be restored.”