by Ellen Andrews, Executive Director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project
I hate making these calls.
Susan is a mom living in Hartford. She and her husband don't have health coverage. She recently found out about the state's HUSKY health insurance program, and she is very happy that her son now has coverage.
HUSKY provides affordable health coverage for uninsured children living in Connecticut at any income level. Parents of HUSKY children can also receive health benefits, but there are income restrictions. Susan marvels at the difference in her son's treatment by the health care system now that he has insurance. However, she makes just a little bit too much money to qualify for HUSKY herself.
HUSKY provides health coverage to about 250,000 Connecticut residents; three quarters of them are children. However, the Census estimates that there are another 390,000 Connecticut residents without health insurance. Most of the uninsured are young adults working in low-wage jobs, often at small businesses.
Nationally, low-wage workers (under $7 an hour) are half as likely to be offered health benefits by their employer.
People without health insurance are far more likely to forego preventive health care like checkups to find and treat problems early. When they do get sick, they are more likely to delay seeking treatment until the problems worsen and become more difficult to treat.
The uninsured are often forced to access care in expensive emergency rooms; those costs are passed on to taxpayers and employers as higher premiums. As premiums rise, more employers are forced to cut benefits to employees, creating even more uninsured workers. We can't afford this cycle.
Susan has high blood pressure and asthma. She cannot afford to see the doctor as often as she should. When she does see a doctor, she can't afford to fill the prescriptions; one medication costs $90. Despite her best efforts to patch together care, she has been to the emergency room more times than she can count. She worries about how her health problems and the medical bills are affecting her son and her family's future.
Susan works as a homemaker for a home health agency. She cares for elderly and disabled patients, allowing them to stay at home and avoid expensive and institutional nursing homes. Her employer doesn't offer health benefits. Susan may have to quit her job to get the health coverage she desperately needs.
It may seem backwards, but given the circumstances, you might do the same thing. So Connecticut may lose another health care provider, a growing labor shortage that will only get worse as our population ages.
Connecticut made a promise to Susan, but we broke that promise before she even knew about it. In 1999, eligibility for HUSKY parents was raised to $27,066 for Susan's family of three people. But last year it was reduced to $21,945, before it was implemented this January.
Neither income level is sufficient to purchase health insurance privately, which averages more than $6,000 per year. At several points this year, the legislature and the governor were reportedly considering making good on their promise and restoring eligibility for Susan, and families like hers.
This small change would have cost the state only $2 million and half of that would have been reimbursed by the federal government. Doubtless, the cost would have been more than offset by the savings of keeping people like Susan healthy and out of emergency rooms. But it didn't happen.
I put off calling Susan with the bad news as long as I could. Connecticut let her down. As she pointed out, she pays taxes too. She wants very much to pay something for coverage, but they can't afford the $500 per month her husband's employer offers.
She thanked me for my efforts and for keeping her informed. I hope the other parents I have to call will be as understanding.
July 16, 2001
Hartford Courant, Other Opinion
Used by permission of the Hartford Courant Company