Malloy's budget threatens health coverage for 1,700 UCFS patients, speakers say
Norwich — About 1,700 patients of United Community & Family Services will lose their Medicaid coverage under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed state budget, and private health insurance will not be affordable for them as a replacement, speakers protesting the plan said at a news conference Friday.
“I’m being kept up at night worrying about how these cuts are going to affect our patients,” said Yolanda Bowes, director of community outreach for United Community & Family Services, which provides health care to about 17,000 local residents.
The news conference, at UCFS’ main clinic on Town Street, was one of several taking place at federally qualified health centers statewide to call attention to the impact of the proposed changes in income eligibility for Connecticut's HUSKY A Medicare program and the low income residents who depend on it.
The Connecticut Citizens Action Group and the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut, which represents 16 centers that provide care to 350,000 state residents, organized the events.
“Overall, we’re looking at 30,000 families losing access to health care,” said Ann Pratt, director of organizing for the citizen action group. “We are urging the legislature not to pass a budget that balances the budget on the backs or our families.”
Under Malloy’s proposal, the annual income eligibility for the HUSKY A Medicaid program would be 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Currently, families that earn 201 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for HUSKY A, but that already was slated to be reduced to 155 percent as of July 31 under changes to the program made in September.
The annual income for a Connecticut family of four at 100 percent of the 2016 federal poverty level is $24,300. Most of those affected by the proposed changes would be parents of children currently covered by HUSKY A, who would retain their coverage.
Deb Polun, director of government affairs and media relations for the health center association, said the proposed Medicaid cuts, along with other reductions in state funding for health centers, would erase much of the progress the state has made in reducing the number of uninsured residents.
Malloy’s budget also would eliminate $4 million in state support to health clinics to help pay for care of uninsured and underinsured residents.
An additional $1.4 million in state Department of Social Service funds that leverage $2.5 million in federal matching funds that support the clinics also would be lost, Polun said.
Jennifer Granger, president and chief executive officer of UCFS, said it is unrealistic to expect that the families who lose Husky A will sign up for private insurance coverage under the state’s online marketplace, Access Health CT.
“It’s difficult to get enrolled in Access Health CT,” she said. “We know that’s not going to happen.”
Polun said the cheapest private insurance plan available through Access Health CT has a premium cost of about $100 per month, plus co-payments on many types of medical care.
Even with federal tax credits available for the plan, it is still unaffordable for many, she said.
“That’s a real barrier” for low-income families, she said. “They may sign up, but they often fail to pay the premiums.”
The federal penalties imposed under the Affordable Care Act for not having insurance coverage “are still lower than the cost of having insurance,” she said.
GianCarl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs for the state Office of Policy and Management, disagreed that the private health insurance plans would be unaffordable.
“Adults affected by this proposal will be able to receive coverage through Access Health CT and will be eligible for tax credits that reduce premium costs, as well as reduced cost sharing,” he said in an email message.
The governor’s proposal for changes in Medicaid coverage is part of a $19.77 billion budget for fiscal 2016-17 that aims to close a projected $930 million deficit.
Overall, changing income eligibility from 201 percent of the federal poverty level to 138 percent will save the state about $88.8 million in fiscal 2017, and more in future years.
Casa said an estimated 27,600 individuals would be affected by the changes.
Several speakers at the UCFS event said they feared that many of the people who stand to lose their coverage would end up getting their medical care at hospital emergency rooms, rather than at lower cost clinics like UCFS.
“When people are sick, they’re still going to seek health care,” Polun said. “They’re going to seek it where it’s more expensive, at the ER.”
Pratt called the proposals “pennywise and pound foolish.”
“What might look good on paper will be a huge step backwards,” she said.
Pratt added that she and other opponents to the Medicaid cuts are not advocating any specific alternative plan, but are hopeful that new sources of revenue can be found to reduce the need for cuts.
“We’ll continue to make our voices heard for all our patients,” Granger said.