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Connecticut healthcare advocates weigh in on Senate-proposed healthcare bill

HARTFORD -- Connecticut healthcare advocates are raising concerns about the Senate's proposed healthcare bill.

Judy Tallman, a director at Community Health Services in Hartford, said the bill will have devastating effects, if passed in its current form. "You are literally risking people's lives, no drama intended, if you make these cuts," said Tallman.

Community Health Services is a federally funded community center that has been seeing patients since the 1970s. The center accepts everyone, regardless of insurance or income.

"We're extremely concerned about these changes because they're going to impact healthcare for hundreds of thousands of people in our state, particularly the Medicaid changes," said Deb Polun of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut.

Polun said the bill, as it currently stands, would significantly cut Medicaid funding and restructure health insurance exchanges like Access Health CT. Polun said 200,000- Medicaid customers with Husky Health risk losing coverage completely.

Connecticut's State Healthcare Advocate, Ted Doolittle, echoed the sentiments of Tallman and Polun. "It [the bill] 100% will raise premiums and raise deductibles for working poor families in Connecticut," said Doolittle. "Five-digit deductibles -- deductibles of $10,000 or more -- would become common," added Doolittle.

Doolittle said the proposed bill will slash Medicaid, eliminating almost a trillion dollars from the program over the next 15 years. In Connecticut, he said this will have the greatest effect on those living near Willimantic, the Naugatuck Valley and all of the state's cities.

Doolittle said hospitals will be forced to charge all patients more, leading to higher premiums because more uninsured patients will turn to the emergency room for primary care. "I guarantee that emergency rooms will see an uptick," said Doolittle.

He also predicts premiums will be even higher for some. "If you're between 50 and 65, you're going to be very vulnerable under this new plan," said Doolittle.

Residents who currently receive Medicaid through Husky Health say losing their coverage would be devastating. "The medication I have to get for my heart problems and everything are sky high, so they [Community Health Services] actually put me on a budget plan when I'm not working," said Joslyn Wakefield of Hartford.

Hartford resident Clifford Baston has been on Husky Health for decades. "I wouldn't be able to afford my medication," said Baston. "I wouldn't be able to afford if I have to have surgery."

The House passed its healthcare bill in May. The Senate made its legislation public last Thursday.