More than 200 people rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday morning to urge lawmakers and the governor not to cut one of the biggest line items in the state budget—Medicaid.
Medicaid helps deliver services to low-income elderly, disabled, and children and both Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the legislature’s Democratic majority have proposed a variety of cuts.
“We’re here to ask our leaders to remember the people behind the budget cuts,” Brenda Kelley, AARP state director, said Tuesday. “One in eight people in the state of Connecticut depend on Medicaid.”
The proposed cuts to the Medicaid account are lengthy and include everything from cuts to dental care and drug coverage to changes in the definition of medical necessity, which advocates say will allow the state to deny payment for medical equipment and prescription drugs.
Drugs like the ones that have helped Pamela Spiro Wagner live her life as an award-winning writer, poet, and artist.
Wagner said she spent more than eight years of her life in and out of psychiatric units for her schizophrenia and bipolar illness before she finally figured out the correct combination of medication.
“It was a hard slog,” she said.
Wagner, who said she would likely be hospitalized if she lost coverage for any one of her nine medications, said it makes more economic sense to enable people in her situation to stay on their meds because hospitalization is far more costly for taxpayers.
Kiki Dixon, a 31 year old single mother with cerebral palsy, said she uses public transit to get to work, go grocery shopping, and get to doctors appointments.
As someone who is wheelchair bound, Dixon said a $1 increase in Dial-A-Ride services means she would have pay the 50 cent increase in city bus fares to get to her doctors appointments in Hartford from her home in Vernon. She said even a 50 cent increase on her fixed income would be difficult.
She said the Dial-A-Ride service is more convenient because it means her commute is shorter and she doesn’t have to wait in inclement weather.
Under Rell’s proposed public transit fare increase, Dixon said she will be forced to take the bus with her baby all year round, even in the winter when the cold is unbearable. However, Dixon said she considers herself lucky because she can still ride the bus even though it will be more difficult because “certain buses only go certain places at certain times.”
The rally comes as legislature’s Democratic majority plan to vote on their own two-year, $37.9 billion budget sometime later this week. Rell is expected to veto it.
“We’re trying to put together a budget that takes care of the needs we’ve heard today,” Speaker of the House Chris Donovan said when he addressed the crowd Tuesday. “We’re going to fight for a budget that’s fair and it’s going to have some taxes.”
When he asked the crowd Tuesday if any of them made more than $400,000 a year the crowd laughed. “But I think if you did. I think if you made over $400,000 you wouldn’t mind kickin’ in maybe a $1,000 bucks more over the course of a year to help out the people in need,” Donovan said.
He said almost everything issue raised during the rally will be addressed by the Democratic budget proposal with the exception of the definition of medical necessity.
“There’s lots, and lots, of other things that we’re not cutting,” Donovan said.
Sen. President Donald Williams referred all questions regarding medical necessity to the Appropriations Committee chairs. He said he’s not certain advocates are conveying the issue accurately. He said he doesn’t believe as many people will lose access to medical equipment or medications as indicated by advocates.
Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, one of the chairman of the Appropriations Committee said back on May 21 that “it’s not likely” the proposed definition, which guts the definition, will be changed.
Democratic lawmakers have yet to fully-disclose the budget proposal they will vote on later this week. But they have said it restores the $500 property tax credit for homeowners making $100,000 a year, scales back the Democrats original proposal to increase corporation taxes by 30 percent and increases the cigarette tax, but by how much is still unclear.
“The taxes that are already on the books in our state are not producing the revenue they were expected to generate,” Rell’s spokesman Chris Cooper said. “There is no reason to believe that the taxes the Democrats are proposing will bring in the kind of revenue needed to balance the budget.”
“There is one week left in the fiscal year. Instead of holding spending cut protests, the Democrats need to fulfill their Constitutional responsibility by passing an affordable,responsible state budget,” Cooper said.
Chris Clark contributed to this report