Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Jessica Offir (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Jessica Offir’s life will likely be cut short if the Democratic or Republican budget proposals from mid-September aren’t changed.

Offir, who was trained as social psychologist but became a secondary school teacher after her husband died, is 53 years old and has been disabled by an autoimmune disease. The “Medicare Savings” program, as it’s called in the state budget, pays 20 percent of her co-pays.

The program is actually a Medicaid program that helps 68,000 residents, many of whom are low-income like Offir and can’t work because of their disability.

Offir’s income is around $1,100 per month and both budget proposals would reduce the allowable monthly income to $1,005 per month.

Last year alone Offir had a breast lumpectomy, seven biopsies, four abdominal cat scans, two hospitalizations, and a lot of physical therapy. She said her condition impacts many parts of her body, which means she sees 19 specialists, receives medical care at least once a week and has one medication that costs $75,000 a year.

At a Legislative Office Building press conference, she said the loss of coverage would mean the loss of one of her breathing medications, frequent emergency room visits, “and the risk of premature death will increase significantly.”

She said as the community was fighting to save the Affordable Care Act, this proposal flew in right under the radar.

“I think it’s immoral and unconscionable of the state legislature and the governor to allow this to happen,” Offir said. “Connecticut needs a budget but it shouldn’t be created by causing the death of its citizens.”

Elaine Kolb, another beneficiary of the program, said it’s not easy to admit that she’s “medically fragile.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Elaine Kolb (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

She said most of the 68,000 residents are probably unaware they are about to lose coverage if either of the Democratic or Republican budget proposals move forward.

Kolb said she’s been able to call an ambulance when she thought she was having a heart attack because she’s on the program — which even the lawyers have a hard time explaining.

“Our people are barely making it,” Kolb said.

New Haven Legal Assistance Association Attorney Sheldon Toubman said many lawmakers are unaware that the cut to the program was in both budget proposals — the Republican budget that was vetoed by the governor and the Democratic budget amendment that was called, but never received a vote.

Kathy Flaherty, executive director of Connecticut Legal Rights Project, said lawmakers they’ve spoken to believe it’s in one party’s budget and not the others. She said many had no idea it was in their budget proposal.

Regardless, advocates said it’s hypocritical to criticize Congress for their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act when the Connecticut state budget does the exact same thing.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy speaking about the last Congressional repeal effort under Graham-Cassidy, said that gutting Medicaid would “eliminate access to health care for tens-of-thousands of our residents, needlessly putting their lives at risk.”

Toubman said that’s exactly what these Connecticut budget proposals will do.

The budget proposals also assume the state will continue with the elimination of insurance coverage for Husky A parents who fall between 155 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

At least 9,500 adults will lose coverage under that proposal, which was first implemented back in the 2015 budget.

“They impose devastating cuts on Medicaid folks, low-income folks in order to protect the wealthy Connecticut residents from even a small tax increase,” Toubman said.

The “Medicare Savings” program cuts would save about $61.5 million per year and cutting 9,500 low-income parents off Husky A will save about $11.3 million per year.

Toubman said it’s tough to quantify how much eliminating the programs would actually end up costing the state because the residents would find themselves in need of even more services.

He said a half-percent increase on the top income earners would raise about $217.5 million per year, which would be enough to save the medical services for both the low-income parents, and disabled.

Legislative leaders said they’re aware of the program and making sure it’s funded will be part of the ongoing bipartisan budget negotiations.

Ann Pratt, of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said there are plenty of revenue options lawmakers can adopt in order to fund this program.

From sales tax increases to a sweetened beverage tax and recreational marijuana, Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said he’s open to all revenue suggestions.

“We need to have a more rational and modern tax system,” Tercyak said.

Malloy has been operating the state under an executive order for the past 102 days. Legislative leaders have been hard at work since Malloy vetoed the Republican budget that passed with the help of eight Democratic legislators trying to craft a bipartisan proposal.

Sheldon Toubman explains the Medicare cut in the budgets

Posted by on Tuesday, October 10, 2017