State lawmakers to fix Medicare eligibility

Kathy Sivertsen, 69, is the president of the resident association at Butter Brook Hill Apartments in New Milford, where many are concerned about the state budget. A hobby is geneology and she surrounds herself with family photos in her living room.

Kathy Sivertsen, 69, is the president of the resident association at Butter Brook Hill Apartments in New Milford, where many are concerned about the state budget. A hobby is geneology and she surrounds herself with family photos in her living room.

Legislative leaders who thought the state’s longest budget stalemate was finished are now planning for one more special session of the General Assembly.

This one is to help about 113,000 elderly residents retain eligibility for the popular Medicare Savings Program before Jan. 1.

For seniors like Kathy Sivertsen, 69, of New Milford, the new budget’s eligibility guidelines -- cutting income requirements in half — have created concern, fear and stress as they precariously balance household budgets that depend on Social Security income.

“Either I don’t go to the doctor or I don’t get food,” said Sivertsen, who is retired from the retail industry and is president of the resident association at the Butter Brook Hill Apartments, a community of more than 100 senior-citizen units, where she moved six years ago after a hip replacement. “Who says these are the golden years? At least 95 or more residents are wondering what’s going to happen.”

Elderly from throughout Connecticut say state lawmakers either didn’t care or forgot about them in October when a two-year $41.3 billion budget was crafted that cut income thresholds for the savings plan by about 50 percent.

The state Department of Social Services recently notified them of the eligibility. Under one of the three tiers of the savings program, called Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries with monthly income levels of $2,854 for a couple and $2,120 for singles, they would be limited to incomes of $1,374 and $1,025, respectively, next month.

Senior health care will change unless General Assembly acts

Up to 86,000 individuals will lose eligibility in the Medicare Savings Programs, as a result of the new state budget.

About 27,000 would move from one level of the Medicare Savings Programs to another, with the effect being they will still get their Medicare Part B premiums paid, but not out-of-pocket costs.

The exact numbers are still being calculated as officials review individual-incomes. The final figures depend on federal funding programming that has not yet been determined.

Source: The General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis.

Many say the extra $134 they will have to pay each month starting January will be a hardship if lawmakers don’t amend the budget.

“This whole situation is extremely upsetting to me,” said Patricia Kolwicz, a 67-year-old retired dental-surgery assistant, who said she is cutting back on food and delaying work on her car. “I worked hard all my life,” said the four-year resident of Butter Brook Hill. “I never asked the state of Connecticut for help until now. It’s really affecting my health. I do without a lot now.”

“There is an aspect of elder abuse to this,” said Diane Albert, resident service coordinator at the Butter Brook Apartments. “Emotionally, it is the same model when a senior is abused. There is the powerlessness, hopelessness and fear. And Connecticut is supposed to be a huge advocate for preventing elder abuse.”

While Albert acknowledged that both the General Assembly and the governor are culpable, she points the finger at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for signing the budget into law.

“He’s the one who made the final decision,” she said in an interview.

“Connecticut is more-generous than the vast majority of states,” Malloy told reporters last week. “And beyond those programs, Connecticut extends other forms of relief that many other states don’t put forward. Ultimately the legislature made a decision and passed a budget that required the reduction of those expenditures. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

He said it is up to General Assembly leaders to decide how to proceed either this year or next.

“There are different pots of money that are being looked at and put together as a total,” Malloy said.

Leaders of the legislature last week were unanimous is supporting a return of the income thresholds to give as many as 113,000 senior citizens some breathing room.

“We all recognize that we should look at the issue and see what should be done,” said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “I think a lot of our caucuses have gotten a lot of calls. We are very concerned by the number of calls.”

“I would say it is probably the one issue that has gotten the most calls,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “Medicare Savings is a big deal. It has crossed all socio-economic lines and it has crossed urban, suburban, rural areas.”

“Medicare savings and also municipal aid are obviously in the two biggest areas of concern that we’d like to find some way to mitigate,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, indicating the Jan. 1 effective date of the eligibility cuts. “I think it’s more likely that we need to do something before the end of the year, at least on that point.”

The leaders will meet with Malloy on Wednesday to discuss the elderly issues and the projected $200 million budget deficit in the first year of the biennium, which runs through June 30, 2018.

“We’re going to try to work together to find a resolve for this situation,” said Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.

Sivertsen and about 113,000 seniors are hoping for it.

“Otherwise things are going to get a lot tighter for me,” she said, adding that many of the people she’s known for decades have already left Connecticut for Florida, Texas, Georgia, Missouri and other lower-cost states. “I’m numb to all this,” Sivertsen said. “I hope they’ll continue to help us.”