Hugh McQuaid Photo
Budget director Benjamin Barnes testifies before the Appropriations Committee (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Democratic lawmakers expressed their frustration Thursday with the proposed cuts to healthcare services for the elderly and the poor made this week by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration.

“As the House chairman of the Human Services Committee, all I can say is, wow. We are devastated by some of the cuts in this budget,” Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, told Malloy’s budget director, Benjamin Barnes.

The Department of Social Services alone will see a cuts in programs and services totaling $166.3 million in 2016 and $238.4 million in 2017. Those cuts include the elimination of health insurance for more than 34,000 parents on the Husky program. Malloy’s budget assumes that these adults will be able to purchase private coverage on Connecticut’s insurance exchange, but advocates say the coverage is still unaffordable.

Sen. Mae Flexer told Barnes that the legislature rejected a similar proposal a few years ago and wondered why the administration would put it forward again.

“Well, obviously because it saves $40 million in the first year and $80 million in the second,” Barnes said. “I won’t dismiss that it is a considerable budgetary savings. It is, in fact, one of the easier cuts to recommend because, while it does produce significant budgetary savings to the state of Connecticut, the impact on the people—I’m not going to say it’s positive, there is an impact on those individuals—there is available to them highly subsidized insurance. Subsidized by someone else.”

Barnes is referring to the federal subsidies offered on the exchange to individuals with lower income levels. These individuals would be above 138 percent of the federal poverty level and would not qualify for Medicaid.

During the Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday, Barnes acknowledged the benefits offered by the private insurance companies on the exchange were not as good as Medicaid, but said they were “rich benefits.”

He also said the exchange plans come with “robust” provider groups.

“To the extent that you’d see a diminishment in benefits going from Medicaid to private insurance, you probably see an enhancement in the number of providers who will be willing to see you and to take you on as a patient,” he said.

But Abercrombie reminded Barnes why the legislature decided against moving this population to the exchange in previous years. 

“We’ve looked at this and the reason why we didn’t do it is our exchange is so robust that these adults are not going to be able to afford it, which means they’re not going to get the insurance and they’re going to end up in our ERs,” she said.

In addition to the proposed elimination of Husky insurance for low-income parents, Malloy’s budget includes reductions to a home care program for senior citizens. Under the Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders, Malloy is proposing to increase the share seniors contribute from 7 percent to 15 percent.

“Increasing the cost-share on frail seniors who receive services under the Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders was a bad idea every time it was proposed by the Rell administration, and it’s still a horrible idea,” Claudio Gualtieri, AARP’s state advocacy director, said. “State legislators have repeatedly rejected similar proposals in the past because it’s been proven that increasing the cost-share doesn’t save the state money in the long run, and has the potential to harm the health and well-being our state’s most frail and vulnerable seniors.” 

The budget also proposes annualizing about $10.5 million in rescissions to the Department of Developmental Services and reducing voluntary services by $19.9 million.

“The governor’s proposed budget will devastate community programs for some of the most vulnerable individuals and families across our state, including mental health and substance abuse, developmental disabilities, child and family health, and well-being services,” Andrea Ferrucci, executive director of Mosaic-Connecticut and chairman of the Connecticut Community Providers Association board, said. 

Earlier this month, the group warned against annualizing the rescissions because it said the reductions would gut mental health, substance abuse treatment services, and programs for the developmentally disabled across the state.

Malloy did maintain the $4 million the legislature approved last year for the 100 additional slots for developmentally disabled adults with aging caregivers waiting to receive services.