(The Center Square) – While the COVID-19 nursing home scandal that has plagued the Cuomo administration drew a lot of attention at Thursday’s legislative budget hearing, New York state lawmakers still had time to pepper administration officials on what’s being proposed for the year ahead. And a proposed 1 percent cut in the Medicaid budget certainly caught the eye of some legislators as well as other advocates.
The Healthcare Association of New York State called on the Legislature to reject the cut, noting that the public insurance program currently only reimburses providers at a rate of 67 cents for every $1 of care given.
“While it is never a good time to cut state support for healthcare, this year it would be devastating. … Further deterioration of that support – especially as we work to end and recover from the pandemic – would worsen an already fragile safety net system and put patients at risk,” Healthcare Association President Bea Grause said in written testimony.
The proposed cut in Medicaid funding comes as the state faces a multibillion dollar deficit it needs to fill. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been hopeful the federal government will provide the state with $15 billion in direct funding to make the state whole, he’s noted that program would face cuts without help from Congress.
Lawmakers raised their own concerns, saying the cuts would be particularly hurtful to hospitals that primarily serve lower-income patients.
“If you cut 1 percent of Mount Sinai's Medicaid allotment and 1 percent of, say, Elmhurst’s Medicaid allotment, that might sound fair to somebody who doesn't know anything about our hospitals, but it obviously is not,” said state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan.
Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said the administration recognized that hospitals considered part of the state’s safety net were facing challenges even before the pandemic. Once COVID-19 hit and elective surgeries were curtailed, it only became worse.
Deputy Health Commissioner Donna Frescatore told the committee that the 2022 budget contains an additional $900 million for “financially distressed” hospitals.
Still, other lawmakers noted that the pandemic has caused more people to enroll in Medicaid. Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, pointed out that when the state implemented a cap on Medicaid spending a decade ago there was about 4 million New Yorkers on the program.
She then recalled that Frescatore said earlier in the hearing that number has since grown to 7 million.
“It doesn't matter how many times we go back and look at the numbers and ask you for the data, you just can't provide health insurance for 7 million people on a lowered cost from that which you started off on for 4 million people, and you shouldn't be trying,” the chairwoman said.
Not only were lawmakers upset at the budget cut, but they were also upset that they received information detailing the cuts just the night before the hearing. State Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, said lawmakers had no time to review the plan.
For O’Mara, the ranking Finance Committee member who unsuccessfully tried to get Krueger to swear in Zucker at the beginning of his five-hour testimony, that maneuver is proof that the administration still is not being transparent with lawmakers even in the wake of the nursing home controversy.
“I find virtually everything you've said here today to be totally without credibility,” O’Mara told Zucker.