NEW BRITAIN - Many city seniors have received letters from the Department of Social Services recently regarding changes to the Medicare Savings Program that could affect more than 2,000 residents.
The budget that Gov. Dannel Malloy signed into law last month changes the income eligibility limit for the program that covers certain Medicare cost-sharing for low-income beneficiaries.
Effective Jan. 1, monthly income limits for the three levels of the program will be, essentially, cut in half.
The monthly income limit for single, qualified Medicare beneficiaries will drop from $2,120 per month to $1,025 per month. For couples, this limit will drop from $2,854 to $1,374.
The monthly income limit for single, specified low-income Medicare beneficiaries will go from $2,321 to $1,226 and the limit for couples will go from $3,125 to $1,644.
The monthly income limit for single, additional low-income Medicare beneficiaries will drop from $2,472 to $1,377 and from $3,328 to $1,847 for couples.
In other words, people in the three tiers of the MSP will not qualify for the program if they make more than $12,060, $14,472 or $16,281 a year, respectively.
According to the Department of Social Services, up to 113,000 senior citizens and disabled people could be affected by those changes.
“It basically cuts the income eligibility level in half to receive the benefit,” Mayor Erin Stewart explained, adding that she has received many calls from concerned residents.
Social Security will also be affected by the changes to the MSP. Beneficiaries who are no longer part of the plan after Jan. 1 will have the cost of their Medicare premiums taken out of their Social Security checks.
“This could impact people’s monthly incomes by over $120 a month,” Stewart said.
“The immediate impact would be a loss anywhere from $108 to up to $134 a person per month,” added John Coughlin, community support coordinator for the senior center.
Stewart said she’s heard talk from the Capitol that indicate legislators are seeking to ease the concerns, but there is a level of uncertainty about what will happen.
“What is frustrating for our end is not knowing what to tell the seniors that are asking about it, that are concerned, that are scared,” said Stewart. “This is one of those things that gets thrown into the state budget, There are so many things that are just being uncovered that impact people’s livelihood that we didn’t know about when the budget was being passed at 2 o’clock in the morning. Had we have known about that, then we would have an opportunity to research and really push to take this part out of the budget.”
People enrolled in the MSP will receive another letter by Dec. 15 specifying if they are off the program or will be bumped into another tier.
2,388 people in the city are in the MSP and could potentially be affected, Stewart said.
State Rep. William Petit Jr., R-Plainville, said legislators are aware of the concerns that changes to the plan have created.
“We’ve received calls and emails on a daily basis,” Petit told The Herald on Friday.
Petit said leadership has been meeting this week on budget issues, including the MSP, but the problem does not have a simple fix as the state continues to face a deficit. Whether it means looking for other revenue sources or looking at other ways to realize savings, Petit said legislators are aware something needs to be done.
“I think everyone wants to help the seniors as much as we can,” Petit said.
State Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, said her office had been contacted by residents, and called the changes to the MSP “draconian.”
“The program has been extremely beneficial to our senior citizens,” Gerratana said.
While she acknowledged there have been tough cuts made to the state’s budget, she said she expects legislators to get to work and brainstorm ideas on how to save the MSP for low income people.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Skyler Frazer on Twitter @SFrazerNBH.