seiu 1199
Home care workers rally outside the state Capitol Credit: Cloe Poisson for SEIU 1199NE

Thousands of home care workers who risked their lives during the pandemic are pleading with Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration to make good on its promise to help them pay for their health insurance.

Under a new labor contract approved in May, the state is supposed to give the workers, who make around $17 an hour, a stipend for health insurance benefits. However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not approved the state’s application for about $28 million to help make that happen.

SEIU 1199NE, which represents the workers, estimates that over 2,000 of the 11,000 home care workers covered by the contract would meet the eligibility requirements to purchase health insurance through the exchange with the stipend. The enrollment period for which is happening right now, but without the $1,950 stipend from the state the workers won’t be able to afford it. 

“Hopefully one day I will be able to go to the doctor when I need medical attention and not worry about all the bills in the mail,” Laurie Buzzanco, a home care worker from East Haven who needs a second knee replacement, said. “Having health insurance that is usable and affordable will make a huge difference in my life and my consumer’s life.”

Department of Social Services Commissioner Deidre Gifford said the administration continues to work on getting approval. 

“We have been clear with the union from the very start that some of the provisions of the contract – the health insurance premium support, paid time off, and bonuses – require approval by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS),” Gifford said Wednesday. “During union negotiations, the PCA Workforce Council repeatedly stated and made clear in the plain text of our contract that these benefits are effective upon legislative and CMS approval, which are beyond the control of the Council or state agencies.”

She said there was never a commitment to an implementation date. The union had anticipated it would be done before the open enrollment period for 2023 was underway. 

In addition, Gifford said CMS has not denied the amendment to the state plan for this to happen.

“As part of typical on-going negotiations with federal partners, the Department of Social Services (DSS) provided additional information to CMS on Tuesday, and we are working with CMS to expedite and approve the revised plan,” Gifford said. 

However, as the clock ticks, workers worry they won’t have health insurance at the beginning of the year and already many are living with unresolved health care issues. 

Isaac Kolonziaa, a live-in, home care worker, said has a rash on his head that he needs to get biopsied, but he keeps having to put off the surgery because he doesn’t have insurance. 

“Disappointed,” Kolonziaa said back in October.

He said he has delayed surgery because he doesn’t have insurance.

To qualify for the health insurance stipend, home care workers must show a denial letter from Husky and Covered CT program, and confirm that they have no other access to insurance through another job, a spouse, or a parent. In terms of the lump sum bonus, a home care worker, also known as a personal care assistant, must currently remain active to qualify for the bonus payment.“Without access to insurance, many PCAs will have to delay indispensable medical procedures or become disabled themselves,” the union said in a statement.