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Cuts to Medicare assistance proposed

By RUSSELL BLAIR

Hartford Courant

As budget negotiations continue at the state Capitol, advocates are calling on legislators not to include a proposal that would cause tens of thousands of low-income elderly and disabled people in Connecticut to lose financial assistance to pay for Medicare.

Both the Republican and Democratic budget alternatives reduced the income eligibility levels for the federal Medicare Savings Program, resulting in a two-year savings of between $81.9 million and $107.7 million, according to nonpartisan fiscal analysts.

But Kevin Brophy, director of elder law at Connecticut Legal Services, says the change means some 68,000 people in the state would completely lose their benefits, which include payments of Medicare premiums, and for the poorest, coverage of co-pays and deductibles, too. The state pays for half of the benefits with the federal government picking up the rest of the cost. The program is funded through Medicaid.

“For my folks, if they wind up losing this … it could make the difference between getting a prescription or having food on the table,” Brophy said.

For Jessica Offir, the roughly $150 a month premiums for Medicare don’t pose the biggest financial challenge. Rather it’s the 20 percent co-pays for the many doctors’ visits, physical therapy sessions and other treatments she requires.

Offir, who lives in Coventry, has an autoimmune disease and sees many specialists. Xolair, the asthma medication she uses, costs about $75,000 a year and has to be administered as an injection at an outpatient facility. Without the Medicare Savings Program, she’d be on the hook for $15,000 for that drug alone.

Just last year, Offir credits the program with saving her from paying about $40,000 for various treatments, including two hospitalizations for chronic diverticulitis.

“This isn’t about $20 to go to the doctor,” she said. “This is about medication and treatments that keep me alive.”

The annual income limit to qualify for the most generous tier of the program — which covers deductibles and co-pays — would be reduced from $25,447 to $12,060 for an individual. The income limit for the least-generous tier would be reduced from $29,668 to $16,281. The new limits are the minimum required to receive federal matching dollars, Brophy said.

Brophy said previous budget proposals included a smaller reduction in eligibility for the Medicare Savings Program, but as the projected budget deficit expanded, so too did the reduction of the program.

Unlike other budget cuts, Brophy said this one has gotten relatively little attention. Offir said she only learned of it when it was brought to her attention by her pastor recently.

“I think that the vast majority of people have no idea that this is happening,” she said.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

 

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