Lawmakers: Key Medicaid data shrouded by Cuomo team

Seward

 

ALBANY —State lawmakers emphasized at a budget hearing Wednesday they have no interest in being rubber stamps for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's emerging plan to revamp Medicaid, a program that provides health coverage to more than 6 million low-income New Yorkers.

After pointing out the Cuomo administration has balked at providing fresh Medicaid data to lawmakers, Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-New York City, told state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker that he has grown frustrated.

"We don't trust you," Rivera said during an unusually tense moment during the four hours that Zucker and Donna Frescatore, director of the Medicaid program, were peppered with questions.

The governor, in presenting his state budget two weeks ago, said he is assembling a Medicaid "redesign team" that will come up with recommendations to identify $2.5 billion in "savings" from the program, vowing there will be no negative impacts on the program's beneficiaries.

He suggested the Medicaid system is troubled a result of what he termed "the blank-check syndrome," with local governments having "no incentive in efficiency or economy of scale."

The Cuomo plan calls for counties that exceed the state's 2 percent cap on property taxes to get the tab for Medicaid increases surpassing 3 percent. 

Since then, some local government representatives, along with several lawmakers, have voiced concern that Cuomo intends to shift costs to county governments in a maneuver that could drive up local property taxes. Representatives of county governments not including New York City project the Cuomo plan could impose $200 million in new costs on the counties.

Pointing out the state budget is slated to be enacted by April 1, Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, voiced concern that heath care institutions and others may not have a chance to make their case on key policy decisions.

"There is an extremely limited time frame involved," he said.

Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, contended important decisions have already been made, with the Medicaid redesign team being used by the Cuomo administration as "political theater," with lawmakers left in the role of "putting the icing on it."

Zucker and Frescatore attempted to assure lawmakers they would provide information on Medicaid redesign team appointments when they get the information. Their comments about the status of Medicaid planning echoed the remarks made by Cuomo on Jan. 16.

At one point, Frescatore told another lawmaker, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-the Bronx, that she would provide her with information "offline."

Biaggi responded by pointedly suggesting key public policy matters should be discussed in public. "I don't want to talk about it offline because I'm a very transparent person," the senator said.

Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Westchester, said the governor's Medicaid moves amount to a "big charade" and suggest "this is a faulty strategy to privatize it."

The program is now administered by the county governments.

As representatives of county health programs, health care associations, hospitals and the insurance industry came before lawmakers, Rivera and Gottfried inquired as to whether any had been invited to participate in the administration's study group. None said they had been contacted.

Sarah Ravenhall, director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials, said her organization could assemble the Medicaid data that lawmakers have been seeking from the Cuomo administration.

"It's apparent the administration does not want to give it to us," Rivera said in response.

"Senator, I'd be happy to give that to you after this hearing," Ravenhall said.

Gottfried told CNHI later that he is worried that "the public will have almost no time to react to these proposals" once they emerge from the Medicaid redesign team.

"I am convinced that it has already been drafted and is sitting in a file at the Division of the Budget," the assemblyman said.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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