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Increased Medicaid demand felt across Connecticut

Associated Press Modified: November 23, 2012 at 2:00 pm •  Published: November 23, 2012

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The larger-than-expected demand for Medicaid health coverage for needy adults, a contributor to Connecticut's latest budget shortfall, is being felt across the state, according to a review of Department of Social Services statistical reports.

Average monthly caseloads in cities and towns during the last three years show the state's three largest cities have the greatest jump in numbers of residents seeking coverage under Medicaid for Low Income Adults or LIA. However, wealthier communities, such as Greenwich, also are home to a growing number of adults without dependent children who are applying for coverage under the government-run health care program.

"With the way that the economy is, the job market is still not picking up," said Alan Barry, Greenwich's social services commissioner, who attributes the growth in applications to the town's changing demographics over the years. "More of the jobs are part-time jobs, so they're not getting the benefits."

Nearly 84,000 people across Connecticut are enrolled in Medicaid LIA, thousands more than anticipated. Ben Barnes, the state's budget director, recently told members of the legislature's Appropriations Committee that LIA caseloads for the month of October were 5.4 percent higher than originally budgeted. In addition, demand for other Medicaid services, such as hospital and nursing home care, also has climbed. The Department of Social Services' overall Medicaid budget this fiscal year is nearly $224 million in the red.

The bump in demand has prompted lawmakers to question why it is happening and when it could max out.

"It's the biggest single piece of the state's budget that has the largest impact on the most lives," said state Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, ranking House Republican on the Appropriations Committee. "One way or another, we need to get control of it, or at least better understand why it's trending the way it's trending."

In 2010, Connecticut became the first state in the country to gain federal approval to extend Medicaid coverage to about 47,000 low-income residents, ages 19 to 64. Most were previously enrolled in a limited state-funded program known as State Administered General Assistance or SAGA. Since then, about 37,000 people have signed up for Medicaid LIA, which offers more services than SAGA. The expansion qualified the state to receive 50 percent federal reimbursement.

To be eligible, a single adult can earn up to $508.48 a month and a couple up to $617.44 a month. The limits are slightly higher for Fairfield County applicants.

Before the expansion, there were an average of 107 recipients in Greenwich signed up for SAGA between July 2009 and June 2010, according DSS's report. The next fiscal year, when Medicaid was expanded to include the SAGA recipients, the figure jumped to 216. During last fiscal year, from July 2011 to June 2012, the average monthly caseload was 301.

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