Magnarelli: Assembly Budget Protects Health Care

March 17, 2006

Instead of cutting New York’s health care system to the bone – as the governor has proposed – the Assembly’s budget restores funding and invests in our health care system. Our budget rejects the governor’s attack on health care and instead substantially strengthens hospitals, nursing homes and prescription drug coverage.

It’s no surprise that in 2006 the governor has again proposed to slash Medicaid funding – jeopardizing nursing home and hospital care and putting our most vulnerable populations at risk – because he has consistently tried to cut funding to health care throughout his 12 years as governor.

Again this year, the Assembly rejects over $1 billion of the governor’s $1.3 billion in Medicaid cuts by restoring $644 million in state funding. In addition, we add another $260 million for restorations and additions to Medicaid and other public health programs for total health care spending of $904 million. The Assembly also rejects making the governor’s 6 percent sick tax on nursing homes permanent, and does not accept his massive increase in Family Health Plus co-payments for non-emergency visits to emergency rooms.

Providing affordable prescription drugs

It’s no secret that the federal government’s implementation of the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan was a fiasco and as a result, shunned thousands of senior citizens and those who are disabled from prescription drug coverage. In response, the Assembly quickly took the lead and immediately called for the state to provide millions of dollars in emergency funding to pay for what Medicare Part D was supposed to cover.

Last year, the governor promised to provide Medicaid wraparound prescription drug coverage for the 600,000 dual Medicaid/Medicare eligible patients for any drug not covered under Medicare Part D.

Instead, the governor’s budget reneges on this promise and proposes to end this benefit on June 30, 2006. The Assembly budget rejects this and continues for another year the successful Medicaid wraparound coverage for those individuals through April 30, 2007. In addition, the Assembly provides $2 million for a Medicare Part D advocacy, outreach and enforcement initiative. This will help seniors and the disabled get the information and coverage they need – as well as help should they be denied coverage.

Our budget also stops the governor’s plan to force seniors currently in the EPIC program to enroll in Medicare Part D July 1, 2006. Instead, the Assembly delays implementation to February 1, 2007 so concerns with the federal program can be addressed.

Listing prescription drug prices on the Web

To further help New York State residents access affordable prescription drugs, the Assembly maintains the Department of Health’s responsibility to establish a Web site listing drug prices for the most prescribed medicines throughout New York State. Our plan makes more sense than the cumbersome one belatedly recommended by the governor, who initially cut the program in his budget.

Cracking down on Medicaid fraud

Unfortunately, Medicaid fraud and abuse is happening and this problem needs to be addressed now – not later. Medicaid fraud strips our most vulnerable of the care they need and throws taxpayer dollars out the window. The Assembly’s plan will save taxpayers an additional $150 million through fraud audit recoveries. To curb Medicaid fraud, the Assembly budget establishes a Medicaid auditing arm in the Medicaid Inspector General’s office to oversee violations in Medicaid billing. We also ensure adequate public disclosure and transparency in the findings by imposing special reporting requirements.

Assisting senior citizens

Continuing our fight to provide senior citizens with quality care at home, the Assembly budget accepts an increase of $15 million for the Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program – which provides in-home, non-medical care for the frail elderly who are not eligible for Medicaid. We also approved $5 million more for Access to Home, which helps low- and moderate-income seniors with critical home repairs so they can stay in their homes.

Fighting for health care

The Assembly budget takes other steps to lend a helping hand to our struggling health care industry. For example, the budget raises the reimbursement cap for emergency room services from $95 to $150 – a step that will help struggling hospitals recoup some of their losses.

One of the highest priorities of the Assembly has always been, and still is, to ensure the health of all New Yorkers. The Assembly has always stood its ground against cuts to New York’s health care system – and this year is no different. Our plan gives New Yorkers the money they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives because New Yorkers deserve no less.