A small group of advocates rallied at the Connecticut State Capitol on Thursday, calling on lawmakers to expand the eligibility requirements for the state’s HUSKY C program.
HUSKY C provides Medicaid coverage to people with disabilities or over 65 who are retired or unable to work. Residents with disabilities and several members of the legislative progressive caucus called the current eligibility requirements discriminatory.
Between chants and protest songs, several people explained how they could lose their Medicaid coverage altogether if they lose their job or retire.
Sandy Roberts, who works for the Center for Disability Rights, said she has considered retiring because of some health issues and increased pain. But she fears what would happen to her coverage if she stops working.
“I don’t want to have to work into my 80s,” Roberts told the crowd assembled outside the Capitol.
Roberts receives Medicaid through Med-Connect, which is for employed people with disabilities and has much higher income and asset limits than HUSKY C. If she stops working, she wouldn’t qualify for HUSKY C under the current limits. And without the services that Medicaid provides, she would likely have to enter a nursing home instead of living on her own.
To qualify for HUSKY C, residents must effectively earn less than $1,182 per month, around 97% of the federal poverty level. Individuals must have less than $1,600 in assets and couples must have under $2,400. The limits are much stricter than those for the state’s other Medicaid programs.
Roberts is not the only one worried about the possibility of losing Medicaid coverage and being forced into a nursing home. Her coworker, Rick Famiglietti, said he is also increasingly worried.
At 58, Famiglietti is starting to consider his prospects in retirement. But he said those considerations are deeply influenced by the HUSKY C income and asset thresholds. If he wanted to qualify, Famiglietti said, he would need to spend down his life savings.
The asset limits and monthly income limits, he said, do nothing but “punish people who have been working despite their disabilities.”
This session, the Human Services Committee passed two bills to increase both the income and asset limits for HUSKY C, but only one still has a shot at becoming law.
The first, included as part of House Bill 5001, proposes raising the income limit from $1,182 to a fixed rate of $1,465 per month and the asset limits to $3,600 for a single person and $5,400 for a couple. The bill passed the appropriations committee and will now go to the floor for a vote.
But several advocates believe this change would provide inadequate relief because it raises the income limit to a fixed amount, the value of which would erode with inflation.
The second proposal, House Bill 6630, aimed to bring the HUSKY C income limit up to the same level as HUSKY D, which is set at 138% of the Federal Poverty Level, currently $1,677 a month. The bill would also bring the asset limits up to $10,000 for an individual and $15,000 for a couple.
House Bill 6630, which disability advocates championed, died when it didn’t make it out of the appropriations committee. But several high-ranking lawmakers said they hoped to replace the language in House Bill 5001 with the higher limits proposed in 6630.
The co-chairs of the legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee — Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, and Sen. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown — said they intend to keep pushing for fixes to the program despite the setbacks.
“We have a month left,” Gilchrest said. “And we are pushing for a change.”
This marks the second consecutive year that the legislature has considered increasing the income and asset limits for HUSKY C.
Lesser argued there was no reason the state cannot loosen the eligibility requirements for the program this year, when the state is benefitting from “record prosperity.”
“We have the capacity to end this historic discrimination,” Lesser said. “It’s just a question of whether we have the will.”