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By Richard Asinof
(Corrected, June 14)
PROVIDENCE â€“ Numbers provided to the House Finance Committee in a staff presentation about potential savings to be achieved by reducing eligibility for adults and parents under the RIte Care program appear not to be accurate, according to Mark Reynolds, president and CEO of Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island.
The information, presented at a public hearing on Monday, portrayed Rhode Island as more generous in its RIte Care benefits than either of its neighboring states, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Rhode Island was said to allow parents to enroll at 175 percent of the poverty level, compared with 150 percent for Connecticut and 133 percent for Massachusetts.
As a result, committee members discussed proposals to reduce eligibility for parents enrolled in RIte Care from its current 175 percent of the federal poverty level to 133 percent. These cuts would remove some 6,600 Rhode Islanders from the Medicaid-sponsored health insurance program. By scaling back to the 133 percent figure, RIte Care spending would drop by $26.8 million, according to the staff presentation.
The problem, according to Reynolds, is that the figures being used were not accurate. In Massachusetts, eligibility extends to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, and the 133 percent figure is when cost-sharing premiums kick in for the participants. In Connecticut, eligibility extends to 185 percent. (See chart.)
â€śFrom what we are hearing, there is a misperception by some in the Legislature that eligibility requirements for RIte Care are more generous than those of our bordering states,â€ť said Reynolds. In fact, both Massachusetts and Connecticut cover parents at higher incomes than Rhode Island does today.â€ť
Cutting off working parents with low income from RIte Care, Reynolds continued, does not make sense from either a public health or fiscal standpoint. â€śThese parents would be sicker, more likely to go to the emergency room for care, and less likely to access primary and preventive care for their children.â€ť Further, cutting RIte Care, Reynolds said, because it leverages federal matching funds, will have â€śa bigger impact on job loss, the economy and tax revenues than cuts that are strictly funded with state dollars.â€ť
David J. Burnett, associate director for Governmental and Public Affairs at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said that the proposed cut in eligibility for RIte Care was not part of the governorâ€™s budget. â€śWe donâ€™t take a position on these things,â€ť he said. â€śThis is in the General Assemblyâ€™s hands now.â€ť
When asked to verify what the accurate numbers for RIte Care are, by comparison, for Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Burnett said: â€śMassachusetts figures are irrelevant. If eligibility is lowered from 175 percent to 133 percent, there is an associated savings.â€ť
House Finance Committee Chairman Helio Melo, D-East Providence, did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the House Finance Committee used information from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council's report â€śHow Rhode Island Compares.â€ť