General Assembly reverses cuts to Medicare program

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CTMirror.org

The Senate prepares to debate a budget adjustment bill to restore funds for the Medicare Savings Program

The General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Monday to reverse health care program cuts affecting as many as 113,000 seniors and the disabled.

The House of Representatives voted 130-3 to adopt the measure late Monday morning, and the Senate passed it 32-1 early in the afternoon.

But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — who has pledged to veto the measure — and others insist that the means used to restore $54 million to the Medicare Savings Program worsened the already deficit-plagued state budget.

“We need to make sure, particularly with the little amount of money that we have — with the financial problems that we have in this state — that we take care of people who need our help the most,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said shortly after House session.

Several legislators described how they had been inundated in recent weeks with phone calls and emails from worried elderly constituents and advocates for the disabled.

“The people of Connecticut, expect regardless of budgetary circumstances, a higher level of support in this area” for the elderly and disabled, said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, adding it would spare thousands of seniors and disabled patients anguish. “It is a substantial concern.”

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said it was a priority for his caucus as well to reverse changes that could eliminate or reduce benefits for thousands of residents in need.

Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, right, and Rep. Vincent Candelora, left, talk with reporters after a special session to reverse cuts to the Medicare Savings Program.

And the speaker said lawmakers from both parties are equally committed to working to mitigate the $224 million projected budget deficit for the current fiscal year.

We have agreed to start on the deficit-mitigation process,” Aresimowicz said. “We’re hoping to work in a bipartisan way to come up with cuts to our budget.”

Malloy has called the measure to restore the Medicare Savings Program cuts “budget gimmickry.”

Legislators found the extra $54 million for the Medicare program by:

  • Canceling a previously ordered transfer of $17.8 million from this fiscal year to the next. But state finances next fiscal year already are at risk of deficit. A Nov. 13 forecast warned revenues in 2018-19 probably would be about $150 million less than originally anticipated.
  • Reducing the state’s contribution this fiscal year to the teachers’ pension fund by $19.4 million. But the budget already assumes the state will save $19.4 million in this area because it increases what teachers must set aside for their pensions.
  • Reducing accounts for executive appointments, miscellaneous agency expenses and from the Department of Administrative Services. The governor has questioned whether these cutbacks can be achieved in the remaining six months of the fiscal year, since the new budget already has forced major cutbacks in these areas.

Malloy isn’t alone in questioning the fiscal integrity of the Medicare Savings Program’s fix.

Rep. Diana Urban, D-Stonington, cast one of the three dissenting votes, along with Reps. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, and Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford.

“This is not balanced. Are you kidding?” Urban said afterward, adding that lawmakers can’t budget using wishful thinking. “I’m beyond feel-good legislation. I’ve been in here 17 years. We’re just creating more deficit.”

Malloy already has said he would defer implementing the new eligibility rules, which were supposed to begin on Jan. 1, until July 1.

Urban added that Monday’s vote was unfortunate since legislators have more time to restore funding for the program in a fiscally honest way.

“Absolutely we need this,” she said. “It is critical.”

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, voted for the restoration, but said she did so with a sense of frustration because legislators still have not addressed a budget deficit identified two months ago.

“I’m pleased to help the seniors but frustrated that this fix was not part of a broader fix,” she said.

Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, who also backed the program fix, expressed similar fears about the fiscal integrity of the measure. “I’m concerned that we’re giving seniors some security in the short term,” she said, “but what are we going to do next year, and the year after that?”

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