HARTFORD, CT — Legislative leaders from both parties are teaming up to call themselves back into special session to approve funding for a program they collectively cut less than two months ago.
Legislative leaders want to restore funding for the Medicare Savings Program, which uses Medicaid funding to help the elderly and disabled pay for Part B Medicare. Because the individuals on the program qualify for Medicare they’re unable to purchase health insurance elsewhere.
When the legislature passed its bipartisan budget in October it reduced the eligibility limits for about 113,000 individuals who benefit from the program. The phones of lawmakers lit up after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the budget on Oct. 31 and individuals learned their benefits were reduced or eliminated altogether.
The changes to the eligibility limits were delayed by the Department of Social Services last week. The estimated two month review period will give lawmakers time to reconsider their actions. It will also buy them time to find the money to fund the higher eligibility requirements.
Restoring the program will cost between $22 and $25 million in the 2018 budget, which is already in the red by $202.8 million.
Republican Senate President Len Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said the petition process for a special session will take time. However, they pointed out that the governor could call the legislature into special session immediately.
“Further delaying a fix by not asking the governor to call a special session continues unnecessary uncertainty and stress on many individuals and families,” Fasano and Klarides said in a statement. “We have a solution that legislative leaders negotiated that we are bringing to our caucuses now. We believe we should pursue every path possible to schedule a vote on this fix as soon as possible.”
Republican legislative leaders drafted a letter to Malloy Tuesday asking him to call the legislature into special session on Dec. 19, which according to Democratic lawmakers is not a firm date. Under the petitioning process the soonest possible date they could convene would be Dec. 22.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter sent an email to their membership Tuesday explaining that they are working through the details and beginning the petitioning process.
A majority of the members of both chambers, which means 76 in the House and 19 in the Senate, would need to sign the petition to the Secretary of the State to call for a special session.
“The governor made it clear that he will not call the General Assembly in on December 19,” Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said. “Fortunately, the administration has rightly delayed any cuts to the Medicare Savings Program for two months.”
He said the Senate Democrats are in the process of collecting signatures in order to call a special session and restore the program before it expires at the end of the year.
A spokeswoman for Malloy said the whole thing is laughable.
“This is absurd. Republican leaders shouldn’t need the Governor’s permission to come in and do the jobs they were elected to do,” Kelly Donnelly said. “Especially when the administration has already delayed changes to the Medicare Savings Program that provide them with the luxury of time to thoughtfully address this particular issue well into the new year.”
She said if the governor calls them in then they should “address the full deficit facing the state.”
Meanwhile, advocates for the population that would lose their health insurance coverage under the budget have scheduled a rally at the state Capitol on Thursday.