While the state considers what to do about planned eligibility reductions to the Medicare Savings Program, local low-income seniors are preparing to tighten their purse strings.
The state budget passed in October called for $81.9 million in reductions to the program, which would have disqualified 86,000 low-income seniors from accessing the subsidy that pays for their Medicare premiums.
Another 27,000 would have their coverage reduced under the new budget to cover Medicare Part B premiums but not out-of-pocket costs.
The eligibility threshold, previously set at $2,100 per month for a single person, would be lowered to $1,025 per month. That’s a drop to a yearly cutoff to the federal minimum of $12,300.
The Department of Social Services announced earlier this month that the changes, which were slated to take effect Jan. 1, had been delayed for two months.
Naugatuck resident Betty McCabe is one of the seniors who would have her benefits reduced if the changes go into effect.
“It will put me on something called ‘Additional Low Income Medical Benefits,’ whatever the hell that means,” McCabe said. “They don’t bother to explain anything to you. They just send you a letter that says you are no longer eligible for Medicare.”
McCabe said the increase in her medical costs won’t be offset by an increase in Social Security benefits, which she expects to only increase by $20 a month.
“I wouldn’t be able to pay for food. I wouldn’t be able to have half of the medicine that I need for my diabetes. I wouldn’t be able to see doctor as often as I should because I would have to pay the co-pay. I wouldn’t be able to get my lab work done to monitor my diabetes,” McCabe said.
Prospect Senior Center Director Lucy Smegielski said the changes aren’t fair to seniors.
“I think it’s a shame they are treating the seniors like this,” Smegielski said. “I have gotten dozens of calls. There is nothing I can do for them.”
Smegielski said one call stood out. It was from a senior who has cancer and will soon be losing Medicare, she said.
“She was in tears,” Smegielski said. “This is crazy.”
Naugatuck Senior Center Director Harvey Frydman said the reductions will have a dramatic effect on the day-to-day life of residents who rely on Medicare.
“They’ll have to spend money on their medication, and forget about their favorite food because they will be paying more for prescription drugs. They may not even come to the senior center because they don’t have money for gasoline. They are just going to be watching their pennies shrink, shrink, shrink, and it is very sad,” Frydman said.
Although he does not like the idea, Frydman said he could see why the state wants to target the elderly population.
“They pay a lifetime of taxes. Then comes the government, and the seniors are the first one they look to cut,” Frydman said. “It’s not fair, but everybody beside the seniors is leaving the state. Who else is left to pay?”
Smegielski has a recommendation of where the state can come up with some of the money to restore the planned reductions — the proposed renovations at the XL Center convention building in Hartford.
“They are considering putting $40 million in the XL Center and taking it away from seniors. The XL Center is a money pit,” Smegielski said.
There is one important thing seniors, and anyone concerned about Medicare, can do, Smegielski said.
“Call your legislators,” Smegielski said. “If they hear from enough people something can be done.”
State Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford, said he, along with other Republican legislators, are opposed to the planned cuts.
“We are calling for a special session to be held immediately to address this specific issue. In fact, Republican members of the General Assembly are circulating a petition to that effect today,” Labriola said on Tuesday.
While there is hope that the changes never come to fruition, McCabe said the current message to seniors from the state legislature is very clear.
“Basically what they are telling the seniors is that if you have anything medically wrong with you, just die,” McCabe said.
The Republican-American contributed to this article.