In CT, Dems Fail the Most Vulnerable [Op-ed]

August 29, 2019

Op-ed as it appeared in Hearst Connecticut Media

By Senators Len Fasano, Kevin Kelly & George Logan

We hear the same myth far too often: Republicans don’t care about the poor. They don’t care about the vulnerable. They don’t care about human services for those most in need.

But nothing could be further from the truth here in Connecticut.

Perhaps surprising to some, it is Connecticut Democrats who have failed to make helping the most vulnerable a top priority. It is Democrats in Connecticut who have cut Medicaid, slashed services for the elderly, and refused to fund programs that would reduce the cost of health care.

Don’t believe us? Look no further than the most recent state budget approved by Democrats this spring.

Their budget reduced Medicaid payments to certain nursing homes by $5.3 million over the next two years, putting nine nursing homes at risk of closure. This policy disregards the serious and traumatic consequences closures would have on vulnerable nursing home residents including persons with dementia. Such closures could potentially push people into unregulated facilities or into a community that does not have the proper supports.

So why do this? Five million dollars may be a relatively small amount of funding in a $40 billion two-year budget. But making this cut frees up money to spend elsewhere. And Democrats had a lot of new spending. Democrats approved 12 brand new state employee contracts costing $91 million. They approved 7 percent raises for state employees. They provided an additional $33.2 million to UConn Health and $28.5 million to the state’s community colleges to help pay for employee fringe benefits. The Democrat budget also contained tens of millions of dollars in political earmarks for tennis courts, farmers markets, festivals and little leagues to help their party bring home the bacon.

All of these priorities were funded. But vulnerable seniors were not.

At the same time Democrats cut Medicaid funding, they also voted against Republican proposals to increase the personal needs allowance to help seniors in nursing homes pay for day-to-day necessities, like toothpaste and soap. The cost? A modest $1 million. Flat out rejected by Democrats.

Also left out of the budget: a reinsurance program that, according to a report commissioned by Access Health Connecticut, could save people up to 20 percent on health care premiums depending on the state’s investment. That cost? $19 million to start. Roughly the same amount that will instead be spent by UConn to leave the American Athletic Conference and join the Big East.

Those are the priorities of Democrats in Hartford.

Some Democrats will try to deflect when questioned on their Medicaid cuts and argue that closing nursing homes is a good thing because it shifts more people to aging in the community. However, Democrats haven’t made aging in place a priority in their budgets either. Over the years we have seen the Connecticut Home Care Program frozen to new applicants, shutting down the entry point to successful aging in place. We have also seen Democrats cut Alzheimer’s respite care funding and cut Meals on Wheels. Republicans feel strongly that aging in place is the best way to age comfortably, but it doesn’t work if Democrats continue to cut needed community supports.

Every state budget is about priorities. Republicans in Connecticut believe support for the elderly and increasing access to affordable health care must be top priorities. Democrats have pushed the most vulnerable to the bottom of the list. For Democrats, politics has come before people.