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Democrats on the Appropriations Committee said they wanted to send Gov. M. Jodi Rell a “strong message” by not including $6 million she requested in her budget to increase funding for her new Charter Oak Health Plan.

The reduction in spending will either delay or underfund the program, Rell’s Budget Secretary Robert Genuario said Wednesday. Rell’s $250 per month health insurance plan for the uninsured is scheduled to start on July 1 and the Department of Social Services has estimated enrollment will be between 8,900 and 10,000 individuals in the program’s first year.

Rep. Gail Hamm, D-East Hampton, said that the governor’s plan has Democrats “very concerned.” She said that while she supports the governor’s goal to help the uninsured, Rell’s approach has “caused angst on this side of the aisle.”

Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, said the committee carried over the $2 million from last year’s budget for the Charter Oak plan, but will not increase funding for a new program. She said that the Department of Social Services has trouble getting new funding out the door.

“Given their track record I don’t think they’re going to be in a position to spend it,” Harp said.

Genuario said he wasn’t as concerned about the reduction in Charter Oak funding as he was about the combined reductions in Medicaid estimates for nursing home costs and other social service programs.

Genuario said that since the Charter Oak program starts on July 1, 2008, in all fairness it’s too soon to say how quickly people will enroll in the program. He said that is not the case with the HUSKY program, which helps insure about 316,000 low-income children and their families in the state.

Christine Stuart photo

Genuario said the biennial budget assumed a growth of about 10,000 individuals in HUSKY enrollment in 2008, but nine months into FY2008 the program already has grown by 20,000. In order to accommodate the Democrats’ budget reduction of $50 million, enrollment would have to decrease below the 2008 numbers.

While the 2008 enrollment figures show HUSKY enrollment increasing, they don’t adjust for the changes on the horizon.

Starting on April 1, 112,000 HUSKY enrollees have been asked to select one of the two remaining administrative service organizations or a fee-for-service plan administered by the Department of Social Services, and the remaining 208,000 participants are being asked to consider whether they want to change from their current managed care organization.

Before July 1, the Department of Social Services will select from a handful of new managed care organizations to handle the HUSKY contract. Only one of those organizations is headquartered in Connecticut. This means many of the organizations don’t have existing relationships with doctors in the state and may have difficulty getting them to participate.

In a March 19 letter to Rell, a diverse group of advocates wrote: “Families in HUSKY and their health care providers should not be required to go through two transitions in three months. Many enrollees will be so confused by the last round of changes that they will simply not respond to the second round of letters, forcing a default placement into an MCO which likely will not include some or all of their doctors.”

Genuario said Rell’s administration is relying on the historical HUSKY data to make its assumptions. He said since the monthly premium structure of HUSKY won’t be changing, he doesn’t expect enrollment to change either, despite the proposed changes. He said data shows that in tough economic times HUSKY enrollment tends to increase, not decrease.

Click here for our story on the Appropriations Committee budget.