As the CEOs of two local Federally Qualified Health Centers, both of which have a mission of treating every patient who comes to us regardless of ability to pay, we have grave concerns regarding Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plans to dramatically scale back coverage under the state’s HUSKY plan in this year’s budget proposal.
For those not familiar with HUSKY, it is a health plan for low-income people that includes dental, medical, and behavioral health care with no copayment. HUSKY was designed this way to remove as many barriers as possible between Connecticut families and health care, which encourages visits to the doctor and dentist.
This way, residents can catch small problems before they turn into expensive emergencies. Today more than 750,000 Connecticut residents are enrolled in HUSKY.
The budget proposes to impose a $1,000 dental coverage cap, subject to medical necessity; however, much more clarification is needed for how dentists will prove services are medically necessary. For example, a lost tooth may seem non-essential; however, what appears initially to be a cosmetic issue can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies and further and very serious medical issues. Without a streamlined approval and appeal process or clarification on who deems a procedure necessary, the cap threatens the ability to provide necessary and effective dental care.
Additionally, Governor Malloy has proposed reducing the income limits for parents to enroll in HUSKY from 155 percent to 138 percent of the poverty level, or from an annual income of $31,139 a year down to $27,725 for a family of three. Unfortunately, this would cause approximately 9,500 individuals to lose HUSKY eligibility. Think about it— that is almost 10,000 of your friends and neighbors who struggle every month to keep their family fed, stay healthy and make ends meet. These individuals will be forced to either forgo medical care entirely, or register for qualified health plans through Access Health CT, which have high monthly premiums, significant deductibles, copayments and no dental coverage at all.
This proposed reduction would deepen our state’s economic problems because in order to pay for the meager health insurance they could afford on Access Health CT, families would have less to spend on the things they need for their family, such as food. According to Feeding America, 16.2 percent of residents in Fairfield County alone are already food insecure, meaning they are not able to get enough high-quality nutrients to keep their body developing well. For children, this means developmental and social problems that can hold them back in their education; for adults and the elderly, it often means rapidly declining health. While this proposal concerns health care, it’s important to see how closely these symptoms of poverty are related to health care expenses.
As we learned from 2015’s eligibility limit reductions, the effects of these reductions will not fix the state’s debt problem, and will only cause further economic instability in the state. Instead of finding a lasting solution to affordable health care for the state and its citizens, we’re stepping on the hands of already struggling citizens of Connecticut living in poverty as a temporary solution to a lasting problem.
At both Optimus Health Care and Norwalk Community Health Center, we see first-hand the need to provide high-quality health care to those who need it, even while we walk the tightrope of financial viability. The added strain this proposal would contribute to our service puts all the good we do for the community at risk. We need the state of Connecticut to continue fighting for the citizens who need it most, as do 9,500 of your friends and neighbors who depend on this program to help them through the most trying times of their lives.
Craig Glover is CEO of Norwalk Community Health Center in Norwalk. Ludwig Spinelli is CEO of Optimus Health Care in Bridgeport. Both are members of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut.