Cen­sus: Me­dian in­come on rise

Lack of state bud­get still a con­cern

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Amanda Cuda

House­hold in­comes are ris­ing, poverty rates are fall­ing and the num­ber of unin­sured Amer­i­cans is de­clin­ing na­tion­wide, ac­cord­ing to new cen­sus fig­ures re­leased this week.

The me­dian house­hold in­come in­creased na­tion­wide be­tween 2015 and 2016, from $57,230 to $59,039 — the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive an­nual in­crease in in­come. Dur­ing that same pe­riod, the na­tion’s of­fi­cial poverty rate fell by 0.8 per­cent and the num­ber of peo­ple with­out health in­sur­ance dropped by al­most 1 mil­lion.

But ex­perts won­dered if those pos­i­tive trends would con­tinue in the fu­ture, given is­sues with the state bud­get and de­bates hap­pen­ing on the na­tional stage.

“It’s been good news for the past sev­eral years, but we’re start­ing to get wor­ried about what could hap­pen in the very near fu­ture,” said Deb Polun, se­nior di­rec­tor of pol­icy and out­reach for the Com­mu­nity Health Center As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­necti­cut.

She said Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy has pro­posed cuts to Con­necti­cut’s Med­i­caid pro­gram, Husky A, that would ef­fec­tively re­move 9,500 low-in­come adults from the pro­gram. There’s also some con­cern that more in­sur­ers will leave Ac­cess Health CT, the in­sur­ance ex­change set up through the Af­ford­able Care Act.

And, of course, the mul­ti­ple ef­forts to re­peal and re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act on the na­tional stage have also cre­ated some un­cer­tainty around health care, said Polun and other ex­perts.

“We’re fac­ing very pre­car­i­ous times,” said Pa­tri­cia Baker, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Con­necti­cut Health Foun­da­tion, which pushes for health care ac­cess for all Con­necti­cut res­i­dents, par­tic­u­larly low-in­come in­di­vid­u­als.

Pos­i­tive trends

On Thurs­day, the cen­sus

will re­lease in­for­ma­tion on in­come, poverty and health in­sur­ance for states, coun­ties and ge­o­graphic units with pop­u­la­tions of 65,000 or more. But there was some state-by-state data re­leased this week, mainly re­gard­ing health in­sur­ance.

The per­cent­age of unin­sured peo­ple in Con­necti­cut fell from 9.4 per­cent in 2013 to 4.9 per­cent in 2016. Mas­sachusetts was the state with the low­est per­cent­age of unin­sured peo­ple, at 2.5 per­cent and the high­est was in Texas, where 16.6 of the pop­u­la­tion was unin­sured.

Poverty in the state also seemed to be fall­ing. The cen­sus re­port in­clud­ing state-by-state data com­par­ing the av­er­age poverty rates over two two-year pe­riod — 2013-2014 and 20152016. In Con­necti­cut, the rate dipped slightly from 9.7 per­cent in 2013-14 to 9.5 in 2015-16.

No state-by-state data on me­dian house­hold was avail­able for the re­lease, but the North­east, which in­cludes Con­necti­cut, did have the high­est me­dian house­hold in­come, at $64,390.

Con­cerns ahead?

Polun said th­ese numbers look great but “we are ex­tremely con­cerned, for a num­ber of rea­sons.” Some of those are linked to the fact that the state still hasn’t ap­proved a bud­get (though a vote is planned for to­day). But ex­perts also ex­pressed con­cern about the fate of Ac­cess Health CT.

Mal­loy’s of­fice an­nounced Wed­nes­day that An­them and Con­nec­tiCare Ben­e­fits, Inc. com­mit­ted to par­tic­i­pate in Ac­cess Health CT for 2018, ac­cord­ing to a re­lease. About 100,000 state res­i­dents pur­chase cov­er­age through the ex­change, the re­lease said.

“With Pres­i­dent Trump and Repub­li­cans in Congress at­tempt­ing to sab­o­tage the Amer­i­can health­care sys­tem, we are in­cred­i­bly pleased that An­them and Con­nec­tiCare will be of­fer­ing health in­sur­ance plans in 2018 through Ac­cess Health CT,” Mal­loy said in the re­lease. “We ap­pre­ci­ate their com­mit­ment to the tens of thou­sands of Con­necti­cut res­i­dents who buy cov­er­age though Ac­cess Health. I am grate­ful for the lead­er­ship of Lt. (Gov.) Wy­man, Com­mis­sioner (Katharine) Wade, and Ac­cess Health CT CEO Jim Wadleigh for their work to im­prove the sta­bil­ity of Con­necti­cut’s in­sur­ance mar­ket­place.”

The in­sur­ers of­fer­ing plans on the ex­change — An­them and Con­nec­tiCare — had un­til Fri­day to de­cide whether they’re go­ing to re­main on the ex­change.

Other con­cerns in­volve what’s been hap­pen­ing on the na­tional stage. One of Pres­i­dent Trump’s ma­jor cam­paign prom­ises was re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act, also known as Oba­macare, and there have been sev­eral at­tempts to do so, though none have suc­ceeded.

Still, Baker said the na­tional de­bate over health­care has cre­ated some con­fu­sion about whether the ACA was still in place. When the new open en­roll­ment pe­riod starts Nov. 1, “we’re go­ing to have to spend a lot of time clar­i­fy­ing things and ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple.”

There have also been con­cerns from health care ad­vo­cates that Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion will sim­ply al­low Oba­macare to fade away. Late last month, the U.S. Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment said it planned to slash the Af­ford­able Care Act ad­ver­tis­ing bud­get by roughly 90 per­cent.

Moves like this are a con­cern, as it could de­ter peo­ple from sign­ing up or re-en­rolling, said Ash­ley Blan­chard, pub­lic pol­icy and re­search an­a­lyst for BCAC Lifebridge, which ad­vo­cates for the well-be­ing for chil­dren and fam­i­lies in Bridge­port. Like the other ex­perts, Blan­chard feared pos­i­tive trends in the cen­sus re­port could be headed for a re­ver­sal. But, she said “it’s tough to know what the fu­ture holds.”

Open en­roll­ment though Ac­cess Heath CT be­gins Nov. 1.

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