By Emanuela P. Leaf
Kimberlee Perez of Hartford is a working mom studying to become a nurse at Capital Community College and as a future healthcare professional, she knows how important insurance and preventative care is.
She currently has health care coverage through HUSKY, Connecticut’s health coverage program for eligible children, parents, relative caregivers, elderly, individuals with disabilities, low-income adults and pregnant women.
It is available to residents of Connecticut, who are U.S. citizens or qualified non-citizens, but the qualification requirements may undergo significant changes – and Kimberlee may lose her coverage.
“This program has provided us the opportunity to benefit from preventative care, including health screenings and vaccinations,” Perez says. “It allowed me to be able afford to work and further my education at the same time.”
Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed a 2016-2017 budget that includes reduced HUSKY eligibility for many parents and pregnant women, as one of many measures to save $40 million in the first year and $80 million in the second year of the budget.
Under the governor’s plan, coverage would be eliminated for parents with an income between 138 percent and 201 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $28,000 to $40,000 for a family of three. HUSKY coverage would also be dropped for pregnant women with incomes between 138 percent and 263 percent of the poverty level, or about $28,000 to $52,000 for a family of three.
The governor’s proposal suggests that these parents can find affordable coverage by purchasing subsidized health insurance under President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), through Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance marketplace.
“The cuts to the HUSKY program will leave my family without insurance,” Perez says. “Financially, we are not able to afford to pay these insurance premiums as well as afford all of our basic necessities. But we also cannot afford to pay the penalty for not having insurance.”
Under ACA, if an individual or family does not have coverage in 2015, they will pay the higher of these two amounts: 2 percent of your yearly household income or $325 per person for the year ($162.50 per child under 18).
The Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health), a private philanthropy organization that works to improve the health system, commissioned an analysis conducted by the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Health Law and Economics, on the potential impact of Malloy’s budget proposal. The report found that although Access Health CT offers subsidized coverage for parents like Perez, their costs will increase by an average of $1,900 a year for less comprehensive coverage, like loss of dental benefits. And because of the high cost of health insurance even with subsidies, 7,000 to 10,000 parents will likely become uninsured.
The report also estimates that the governor’s proposed HUSKY cuts would affect 34,000 working parents, potentially leaving many thousands with no health insurance along with increased financial vulnerability and limited access to care.
“As a data-driven foundation, CT Health commissioned this analysis because it informs us about the numbers of people affected and the impact on their already strained household budgets,” said Elizabeth Krause, vice president of policy and communications at CT Health. “But, we also never stop thinking about the people behind the numbers. They include childcare providers, barbers and those who are working while going to school to better the lives of their families.”
Other health advocacy groups have called on the governor and state legislators to maintain current HUSKY eligibility levels for families enrolled in the program.
Sharon Langer, advocacy director at Connecticut Voices for Children, said that Connecticut has made strong progress in expanding access to health coverage for families, but noted, “The governor’s proposal for parents and pregnant women would undo this progress, making thousands of them and their children uninsured.”
Jane McNichol, executive director of the Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut agreed, calling the proposal “a step backward.”
Meanwhile, Perez continues to juggle providing for her family, furthering her education and dealing with the added stress of not knowing what will happen with the budget.
Her children will still remain HUSKY eligible, but that the effects of having to pay monthly premiums, copays, deductibles, and for supplemental dental care would impact the resources available for her entire family’s financial security
To Perez, it’s tough trying to better her life, when resources like HUSKY might be cut, especially for families like hers who are “using it for the right reason.”
When asked what she would say to Gov. Malloy, she said, “You are setting up families for serious harm. These are families with children and those with chronic diseases. Healthcare should be a basic right. These are families struggling to maintain their basic needs. They cannot afford to take a sick day at work or pay for the hospital fees associated with admission or ER/urgent care visits. They may not even be able to afford their daily medications. Governor, this cut will devastate Connecticut families.”