Legislature overturns insurance premium fees

In response to an outcry from community-based advocacy groups, the Connecticut legislature voted Nov. 2 to reverse a bill that increased healthcare insurance premiums for uninsured children from low and mid-income families under the state’s Healthcare for UninSured Kids and Youth program.

Under recent changes to the HUSKY B program, which covers children above 150 percent of the income poverty level, insurance premiums were raised by up to $50, effective Oct. 1. On Nov. 1, approximately 2,000 children would have been dropped from the program because they were unable to pay.

But — due in part to a campaign against the premiums that was waged by groups such as CTHPP and Student Health Outreach, a project of Advanced Strategies for Health Care Access — the ruling was repealed by the legislature and the governor before those unable to pay for their coverage were dropped at the beginning of this month.

Cutting the premiums back will cost the state $2.2 million during this fiscal year and $4.8 million the following year. The proposed premiums were the latest in a series of failed attempts by the legislature to restrict HUSKY’s coverage range.

Yale-New Haven Hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said the hospital supports the increased coverage because it grants more people access to essential services.

“We’re very supportive of the restoration,” he said. “The important thing is that it encourages people to pursue necessary medical care.”

HUSKY, which began in 1998, now enrolls over 316,000 Connecticut residents, about 95,000 of whom live in New Haven County. The majority of those residents are enrolled in Husky A, a program that began as an extension of Medicaid to cover children in Connecticut whose families are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. HUSKY representative Glendine Henry said the plan eventually expanded to cover parents whose children were eligible for the program.

In 2003, Connecticut’s legislature proposed dropping the level of eligibility of parents and grandparents to only those at or below 100 percent of the poverty level. A legal aid law suit supported by the Connecticut Health Policy Project struck the bill down, granting most of the relatives another two years under the program, CTHPP Executive Director Ellen Andrews said.

Andrews said the legislature is still debating adding a $25 premium to the parents covered under HUSKY A, but in order to make this change the state must receive a federal waiver because HUSKY A is partially funded through Medicaid.

Andrews said that, even without the increased premiums, a large percentage of the 470,000 uninsured people in Connecticut remain ineligible for the program because it applies only to children and their families. Once children turn 19 years old, they and their parents are no longer eligible for the program and must try to apply to programs such as State-Administered General Assistance and Medicaid, SHOUT Executive Director Lisa Amerino-Marshalko.

SAGA, part of Medicaid’s spend-down program, reimburses medical expenses exceeding a certain threshold over a six-month period, Amerino-Marshalko said. Every six months, she said, the patient must renew his or her program participation in order to continue receiving coverage.

“You have to be well below the federal poverty line before the state will give full benefits,” she said.

Amerino-Marshalko said her program works to provide the uninsured population with information regarding their eligibility for programs. In addition to the over 25,000 HUSKY information packets SHOUT distributes to families of public school children, she said they also provide adults with healthcare resource guides to help them navigate the state-funded programs for which they may be eligible.

“There are various people who don’t qualify for HUSKY and fall through the cracks,” she said.

Comments