The state legislature will hold a special session after Christmas to restore $54 million in cuts to a popular medical program that could affect more than 100,000 people, the highest-ranking senator announced Thursday.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney of New Haven said lawmakers had reached a bipartisan agreement to restore the money in the Medicare Savings Program. The exact date of the session has not been set, but it would be between Dec. 26 and 29, he said.
Based on the state’s arcane rules regarding petitioning for special sessions, the session must be held during that week. Legislators gathered the necessary signatures this week to force the session after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy did not call lawmakers back to Hartford.
Top legislators say they have agreed to make $54 million in other budget reductions to pay for the Medicare Savings Program, but Looney declined to reveal any cuts Thursday because the Senate Democrats have not held a closed-door caucus on the issue.
The current plan calls for the General Assembly to focus only on restoring Medicaid funding, rather than tackling the overall projected deficit of $207 million for the current fiscal year. The Medicaid funding pays for the Medicare Savings Program.
“The governor maintains that if the legislature is coming in for a special session, they should first address the full deficit facing the state and that what they absolutely should not do is make our fiscal problems worse,’’ said Kelly Donnelly, Malloy’s chief spokeswoman.
Keeping up the pressure on lawmakers, more than 200 senior citizens and the disabled gathered at the state Capitol complex Thursday to rally against the cuts that help them pay for their healthcare.
Toward the end of the one-hour rally, Looney addressed the crowd in Room 2C and told them that the special session will be held.
The majority of legislators in both chambers voted in October in favor of cuts to the Medicare Savings Program that could affect as many as 113,000 people in Connecticut. The cuts were slated to take effect on Jan. 1 under the budget signed by Malloy, but the low-income seniors and the disabled were given a reprieve when that date was pushed back at least two months.
Many of the seniors would have been forced to pay an extra $134 per month, which advocates said would have a direct impact on their low incomes. Currently, seniors earning as much as $25,000 per year are eligible for the full benefits, but that would have been reduced to incomes of $12,060 per year for full benefits.
No seniors would lose their Medicare coverage, meaning that Medicare would still pay if they were admitted to the hospital. Instead, they would lose subsidies that are paid by Medicaid that currently help them pay for their Medicare Part B premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. The cuts were scheduled to be enacted by changing the income eligibility limits, thus cutting some seniors off the program if their annual income was too high.
Lawmakers have been scrambling to restore the money in recent weeks. Although the cuts had been included back in February under Malloy’s original budget, the outcry did not erupt until senior citizens were recently notified in the mail by the state Department of Social Services that the cuts would be taking effect.
“We didn’t know that the Medicare Savings Program was going to be ravaged like that,’’ said Peaches Quinn, president of the Connecticut Coalition on Aging.
Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said the legislature should act soon to restore $54 million and then cut $54 million in other accounts to pay for it.
“Let’s vote and get the Medicare Savings Program going,’’ Fasano told The Courant. “The MSP is bleeding the budget into more and more deficit. … The elderly folks are saying: ‘How do I know what’s going to happen after March 1?’ And they’re right.’’
If approved by the legislature, the $54 million restoration would cover the second half of the fiscal year — from Jan. 1 until June 30.
Despite Malloy’s calls to focus on the overall deficit, House Republican leader Themis Klarides of Derby says the legislature must first act on the bipartisan agreement that lawmakers reached on restoring the Medicaid cuts.
“Before we can discuss how to proceed with the overall deficit, we must first make good on the agreement we shook hands on last Monday,’’ Klarides said. “That is to restore the Medicare Savings Plan cuts that will leave more than 100,000 seniors and disabled people without critical healthcare unless we act. We have to codify this into law to give these people long-term security.’’
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