Despite a veto threat, the legislature defied Gov. Dannel P. Malloy by voting in special session Monday to restore $54 million for the popular Medicare Savings Program that affects more than 100,000 people.
Lawmakers had originally cut funding last year for the program, which uses Medicaid money to allow low-income senior citizens and the disabled to pay for Part B premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.
Seniors began complaining when they learned late last year that the money had been cut as part of the bipartisan state budget that was signed into law on Halloween. Hearing the outcry, the legislature crafted a bipartisan plan in recent weeks to restore the money.
Following brief debates Monday, the money was restored by votes of 130-3 in the state House of Representatives and 32-1 in the state Senate. The votes were far beyond veto-proof margins, which are 101 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate.
But Malloy is not backing off the veto threat, which he promised last week if the legislature did not change the bill.
Even though officially known as the Medicare Savings Program, the program uses Medicaid — rather than Medicare — money to fund it.
To pay for the $54 million in Medicaid money, the legislature reduced an equivalent $54 million from other accounts. That included not making a payment of $19.4 million into the teachers’ retirement fund, based on a revised valuation of the fund that was completed by actuaries about two months ago. Since teachers started paying 7 percent into the fund on Jan. 1, rather than 6 percent, the state is making reduced payments.
Additional funds were cut from operating expenses and managerial savings, among others.
State Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat, was the only senator opposed after saying he was concerned that millions would not be going into the teachers’ pension fund.
“I am someone who wants to vote for this, but I will be voting against this,’’ Winfield said. “I want a fix. … I’m glad that the seniors will get relief. but I think we have some serious problems coming down the road and doing what we’re doing here today does nothing to make those problems better.’’
Sen. Beth Bye, a West Hartford Democrat, said the outpouring of concern following the cuts to the program showed “how fragile our seniors’ grip on economic security is.”
“This is a life-sustaining benefit for seniors,” Bye said. “I have my frustrations about the funds coming from the teacher payments.’’
She added, “We should have done this as a single unit. Instead, we’re doing a piece of it … but I’m concerned that by not doing the whole deficit mitigation, we may not get there on everything.”
Sen. Len Suzio, a Republican from Meriden, said more than 2,000 elderly residents in his district depend on the subsidies.
“The anxiety and concern they had was great,” he said. “Clearly, we want to mitigate any kind of harm and damage done to our most vulnerable populations including our senior citizens.”
Legislators have been involved in an ongoing, major clash with Malloy, who wanted them to tackle the entire projected deficit of $222 million in the current fiscal year — rather than just resolving the Medicare Savings portion.
In the House, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle said they needed to restore the money for a popular program.
“I am incredibly supportive of our seniors, our disabled and the Medicare Savings program … but I have to tell you today that in my other life as an economist, I’m wondering why we’re here today,’’ said Rep. Diana Urban, a Democrat. “It’s my understanding that this program is safe, through July because the governor has made it safe through July, and we are creating … a $17.8 million hole. We are coming back in in February. We have a huge deficit that we’re looking at then, and the right way to budget is to budget all at once, looking at all these issues together. Piecemeal budgeting can only create problems for all of us.”
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