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Voices Speaking

February 5, 2018

Press Conference: Using Data to Promote Health Equity in Connecticut

Connecticut Voices for Children and Health Equity Solutions hosted a joint press conference February 5, 2018, to present our new report "Data to Promote Health Equity for Children and Families in Connecticut" and a legislative proposal to address the current data gaps. 

Although Connecticut achieves high ratings on many healthcare indicators, wide disparities by race and ethnicity dominate the state´s health care system, with White residents having better access to care and health outcomes compared to people of color. In our report, we analyze how closing these disparities has proven difficult in part because state agencies lack consistent, reliable data to identify community needs and evaluate innovations, with serious consequences both for the impacted communities and the state as a whole.The report finds that despite widespread agreement on the importance of addressing racial and ethnic disparities in Connecticut, little actionable data on racial/ethnic health disparities is available, as data is dispersed among several agencies.

In this press conference, Health Equity Solutions presented legislation to fill these gaps. They proposed establishing a set of shared reporting guidelines for state agencies, as well as shared practices to improve data collection. You can watch the video of the press conference below:

Issue Area:
Health
Tags:
Data, disparities, health
June 29, 2018

Children’s needs at risk: An update on federal attempts to cut programs for children

 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) update:

On June 29, the Senate passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that preserves SNAP (formerly food stamps) without imposing new burdens on families. However, the House Farm Bill, which passed on June 13, dramatically cuts SNAP and imposes an enormous administrative burden on states and enrollees. SNAP remains at risk until Congress comes to a final agreement. Children and families rely on SNAP to ensure they have adequate nutrition when finances are tight. Without healthy and consistent meals, children have trouble concentrating in school, can experience developmental delays, and are more prone to illness. Creating new administrative hurdles will add to the state’s expenses and likely cause many eligible families to lose their benefits. See our fact sheet on SNAP in CT.

What can you do?  The farm bill is expected to move to conference negotiations between the House and Senate, and our work to ensure that the final bill protects SNAP begins in earnest. Thank your senator (both CT senators voted against harmful amendments and for the Senate bill) and urge them to call for a final conference agreement that includes the Senate’s strong bipartisan SNAP provisions and rejects the addition of harmful work requirements.

ACA Repeal: The zombie returns 

On June 19, Senator Rick Santorum and others released a new plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The plan would cause tens of millions to lose health coverage, increase costs for others, and do away with consumer protections—like allowing insurers to charge some people more. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is refusing to defend the Affordable Care Act in court, including the protections for pre-existing conditions. Both steps put vital progress and the financial and physical health of millions of Americans at risk. Learn more here and here.

What can you do? Ask your state and federal candidates how they plan to keep Connecticut’s HUSKY (Medicaid and CHIP) programs strong. Call your federal representatives to urge them to work together to improve our nation’s health systems.

 

Issue Areas:
Family Economic Security, Health
Tags:
ACA, Federal, Food Security, health, insurance, SNAP
December 19, 2018

Updates: Farm Bill Passes and Legal decision on the Affordable Care Act to be Appealed

Karen Siegel, M.P.H.

It was a busy week in national health news. First, the long-stalled Farm Bill, which includes SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps), passed both houses of Congress. The final bill is a bipartisan compromise that preserves SNAP without imposing the draconian cuts included in earlier drafts.  This means that Connecticut families can continue to count on SNAP to put food on the table in lean times.

On the day the President is expected to sign the Farm Bill into law, the USDA announced a proposed rule to restrict states’ ability to provide SNAP benefits to adults without dependent children living in high-unemployment areas. This rule, which would affect roughly 39,000 Connecticut residents, will be posted for public comment in the near future.

Also last week, a judge in Texas declared the Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional. The ruling found that without the tax penalty for failing to purchase health insurance, which ends this year, the entirety of the Affordable Care Act cannot stand. Legal experts have responded by calling the ruling unsound. Should this ruling eventually take effect, it would abolish Medicaid expansion (HUSKY D in Connecticut), health insurance subsidies, and consumer protections, affecting hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents.  The good news:  For now, nothing changes while the decision works its way through the appeals process. Individuals who are uninsured can still sign up for health coverage through Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT, through January 15. Many qualify for subsidies through the exchange. Residents may sign up for HUSKY throughout the year. 

Issue Area:
Health
Tags:
ACA, farm bill, food stamps, health, SNAP
January 15, 2019

Healthcare in 2019 - What to Expect

Karen Siegel, M.P.H.

Health insurance coverage rates are slipping

Connecticut’s HUSKY (Medicaid and CHIP) programs are key to our state’s health and economic success. Medicaid coverage has an enormous impact: it reduces poverty, provides lifelong benefits for children, and helps to reduce infant mortality rates. Children are more likely to have insurance and to see a doctor when their parents are insured; so, covering whole families is especially important. Being insured means parents with chronic conditions can stay healthy enough to work and parent well. It also means freedom from exposure to catastrophic medical debt for families and less uncompensated care for hospitals and clinics. Further, Connecticut’s HUSKY program is fiscally efficient, boasting the lowest per member per month Medicaid costs nationwide.

HUSKY expansion helped raise the rate of Connecticut residents who have health insurance to one of the highest in the nation. Yet, recently released 2017 American Community Survey data suggests that while insurance coverage rates in the nation continue to improve, in Connecticut they are at best stable and likely decreased by roughly 20,000 individuals from 2016 to 2017.

Since 2015, the legislature has twice voted to cut Medicaid income eligibility levels for parents/caregivers. We cannot afford to balance the state budget by putting families at risk of preventable disease and economic instability.

Health insurance quality at risk

Having health insurance helps people access care, but being insured alone is not enough. For Connecticut’s families to avoid preventable illness or complications, health insurance must pay for services that families need to stay healthy. Proposals at the state and federal levels threaten to erode what it means to have health insurance coverage. These include allowing short-term and “junk” insurance plans, consolidation of providers through hospital mergers and the Aetna/CVS merger—which could limit access and increase costs, and efforts to trim the state budget by covering fewer benefits for Medicaid enrollees. 

When parents have to choose between paying out of pocket towards a high deductible or paying a utility bill, they are likely to forgo or put off treatment. Inexpensive measures that could prevent a crisis—like a vaccination or a checkup—keep health care costs down.

Recent attempts to trim the Medicaid budget have targeted dental coverage and primary care provider rates. When Connecticut raised Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care, provider participation increased, meaning more Medicaid patients were able to make appointments for routine care. Given the state fiscal crisis, Medicaid is likely to be targeted again. Additional cuts will cause real harm to real families.

Connecticut should join nearby states by adopting paid family and medical leave

Paid parental leave leads to a host of positive life outcomes for both parents and children, including decreased infant mortality, decreased child behavioral problems, decreased rates of maternal post-partum depression, and increased rates of father involvement throughout childhood. Children begin building vital brain architecture from the time they are born. By giving parents time to develop secure attachments with their new child, family and medical leave plays an important role in nurturing healthy child development for biological and adoptive parents.

Often, workers lacking paid family and medical leave hold low-income and/or multiple part-time jobs, and so cannot afford to take time off. Workers who take time off with no pay or reduced pay report borrowing money, enrolling in public assistance, putting off paying bills, and cutting their leave short. Family medical leave strengthens families’ economic stability and alleviates stress by allowing parents to care for their children without financial hardship.

Further, paid family medical leave is a smart way to improve Connecticut’s workforce. Access to paid family medical leave results in workers taking better care of their health, taking fewer risks, taking fewer and shorter sick leaves throughout the course of their careers, and having less inpatient care. Further, leave is paid for by employees, as detailed in the plan Connecticut has come close to adopting.

Opportunities to promote healthy, stable, and safe communities

Racial and ethnic disparities in health cannot be addressed in the clinic or hospital alone. To promote health equity, it is necessary to enhance community-based services and connect people to what they need in the places where they live, play, study, and work. For example, by connecting the parent of a child with chronic asthma to resources that can remove mold or offer pest-control for the family home, emergency room visits can be decreased while the family’s wellbeing increases. Community health workers can help bridge the gap between doctors’ visits and life at home, helping to identify non-medical causes of health issues and find resources to address these. Community health workers can also help empower families to play a bigger role in their care or help families to incorporate lifestyle changes in response to a diagnosis or addiction.

Opportunities to promote these strategies and to link communities to medical providers and vice versa include soon to be released proposals by the Office of the State Health Innovation Model, the recently announced federal Integrated Care for Kids grant and recently passed federal funding to address opioid addiction.

Opportunities to promote lifelong mental health starting at birth

In the first thousand days of life, children’s brains develop rapidly, making this period an especially important one for promoting health and preventing illness. Identifying and addressing children’s and families’ needs early on can prevent a lifetime of struggling to learn or coping with mental health challenges. Whole-family approaches can support children in developing resilience and other protective factors while supporting caregivers to respond to challenges in productive ways.

Opportunities to access additional federal funding mentioned above and through the Families First Prevention Services Act could also be used to bolster our state’s behavioral health system, especially for young children. Connecticut is poised to take advantage of these resources and to leverage the State Health Innovation Model to promote positive outcomes for children by improving the links between pediatricians’ offices and the state’s home visiting and community-based early childhood efforts.  Connecticut is the birthplace of robust, best-practice initiatives like Help Me Grow and Birth to Three and home to an array of home-visiting and screening programs, but these programs remain underfunded and links between programs, schools, and medical care providers could be improved.   

Issue Area:
Health
Tags:
health, Healthcare, HUSKY, insurance

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