I am excited about working with the new Cuomo administration. I have worked with Andrew Cuomo and his staff when he was State Attorney General on health law and other issues. The staff appointments he has announced so far are high-quality professionals with extensive public service.
He will be a strong, articulate leader committed to making government work. A governor like that can make an enormous difference.
He and I share progressive positions on many issues. As Assembly Health Committee chair, it is especially important to me that he is committed to protecting health care consumers, quality in service delivery, and reproductive choice.
There will be issues on which we will disagree, and I am sure there will be news stories about conflicts between the Governor and legislators, regardless of party. That is true with any governor. The founders of our country intended to create a system in which there would be tension - checks and balances - between the executive and legislative branches.
Gottfried Appointed to Medicaid Redesign Team
At his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo announced the creation of a Medicaid Redesign Team, to develop proposals to control costs in the State's Medicaid program while improving the quality and accessibility of care.
In the proposed budget he announced on Feb. 1, the Governor proposed cutting about 10% of the Medicaid budget. His budget bill says if the Medicaid Redesign Team's proposals do not reach that goal for the new fiscal year (beginning April 1), then the Executive Branch, on its own, may make any changes in Medicaid payment levels or benefits, regardless of state law.
As chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I am representing the Assembly Majority on the Team. The goal is to find ways, other than just cutting payment rates or services, to reduce the cost of the program. The Medicaid Redesign Team is conducting regional public hearings across the State to receive ideas from the public on ways to reduce costs and improve the quality of the Medicaid program. No pre-registration is required. To see a list of the regional public hearings, or to submit proposals to the Team, go to: http://governor.ny.gov/medicaidredesign. You may also e-mail your ideas to me at: GottfriedR@assembly.state.ny.us.
The Manhattan hearing is this Friday, Feb. 4, noon to 5 PM, at Baruch College 55 Lexington Avenue & E. 24th Street.
The Redesign Team's next meeting will be held in New York City on February 9, 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM, at the Hunter College School of Social Work, 129 East 79th Street (between Lexington and Park Aves.).
Standing Up for Fairness in the State Budget
The worst recession since the 1930s continues to hold down state revenues, so we face a $10 billion deficit. Education, health, mental health, and higher education make up three quarters of the state budget. Balancing the budget entirely through cutting spending means serious cuts to those programs - even though we've been making cuts for several years already.
In a recession, when private sector spending and hiring is down, public spending is like a "back-up" generator to keep the economy going. And for the long term, publicly-funded services - health care, education, transportation construction, mass transit, public safety, sanitation - are essential to hav-ng a strong job-producing economy.
A temporary increase in the state income tax on the highest-income taxpayers was enacted in 2009, at the start of the recession. It expires this year. The loss of that revenue is major part of this coming year's deficit. I believe that extending the temporary increase would be a better choice than cutting needed programs.
Assembly Speaker Silver has courageously spoken out saying we must put this item on the table.
In tough times, I believe the wealthiest New Yorkers can and should share in the sacrifices the state budget will require.
Fighting to Protect the Rent Laws
In the first week of the 2011 legislative session, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sent two powerful signals - on behalf of me and other Assembly Majority members - in support of strengthening and extending rent protections.
Strong rent laws are necessary to preserve affordable housing, enable people to remain in their homes, and promote stable, diverse communities. Without strong rent laws, a landlord can refuse to renew a tenant's lease, or insist on an unlimited rent increase. Strong rent laws are extraordinarily important to protecting the communities I represent. I support extending rent protections to "market rate" tenants, so they can also be protected in their homes.
In 2011, the state law that authorizes Rent Stabilization will end unless it is renewed by the Legislature. The Assembly will easily pass a bill to renew the law. But the State Senate majority has always been a serious obstacle. Additionally, we must enact laws to reform Rent Control. Most of New York City's remaining Rent Controlled tenants are elderly, and are routinely subjected to greater rent increases their Rent Stabilized neighbors. I believe they should have the same or very similar rent protections as their Rent Stabilized neighbors.
When Speaker Silver gave his introductory remarks before Gov. Cuomo delivered the State of the State address, Silver singled out strengthening and extending the rent laws as one of the Assembly's top priorities.
He also pointed out the connection between proposals to impose limits on local property tax increases (a major issue outside New York City) and legislation to strengthen and extend rent protection. "In a day and age when we're talking about giving people the ability to live in their homes and not be priced out of their homes, we should not forget people who have rent protections," Silver said. "I just think the philosophy behind the tax cap is the same as the philosophy behind rent regulation."
It is all too rare for a statewide political leader to speak out so strongly for tenants and affordable housing.
In January, the Assembly Committee on Housing voted to report an omnibus rent-reform bill that I co-sponsored (A. 2674-A).
Ethics Training: Following the Assembly's Lead
For many years, the Assembly has required every Assembly Member and employee to take a training session in the details of state ethics laws, every session. Now, Governor Cuomo and the State Senate have adopted a similar requirement.
The Assembly also requires all members and staff to attend a training session on preventing sexual harassment and discrimination in our workplace. The Executive Branch and the State Senate should do the same.
34th Street Transitway Update
Thirty-Fourth Street is a crucial cross-town artery that is important to residents, commuters, and tourists; it is also Midtown's most congested through street. The street's two bus routes, the M16 and M34, crawl at an average speed of just 4.5 miles per hour. And, while New York City Department of Transportation has implemented dedicated bus lanes, this has only increased the speed by an average 0.5 MPH. Considering the influx of development and changes on the West side, like Hudson Yards, something must be done to relieve this clogged thoroughfare.
However, what is done must not conflict with the needs of people who live and work along 34th Street.
The DOT has concluded its block-by-block outreach and is now working with residents and building owners to accommodate the specific needs of each building. At the most recent Community Advisory Committee meeting, a general timeline was given to members of the committee as to how the DOT will move forward with its proposed project. Updated preliminary designs will be presented for public comment and review in the spring. In the summer, a traffic study and environmental review will be conducted. If the environmental review signals a possible negative outcome in any of its 14 categories, a full Environmental Impact Statement may be necessary.
There are still important steps to go in this project, and I am paying close attention to how the DOT deals with the needs of the various communities of 34th Street.
Callen-Lorde Community Health Center Opens Pharmacy
The Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, located in Chelsea and dedicated primarily to the health needs of the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS (it is also open to everyone), has opened a pharmacy to serve its patients. The health center was created in 1998 by grassroots health organizations dating back nearly 40 years. The Health Center has been an important place for the often over-looked needs of the LGBT community. Today, Callen-Lorde remains the New York metropolitan area's only facility targeting the health care needs of the LGBT communities and people living with HIV/AIDS.
There are certainly a lot of drug stores within a block or so of Callen-Lorde. But because the pharmacy is part of a federally-qualified health center (FQHC), it can offer significantly lower drug prices to its patients under a federal program.
The Health Center now provides nearly all the services a patient may need when visiting including primary, oral, and mental health care, as well as gynecological and mammography services, and community outreach for teens and seniors.
The Pharmacy will offer 90-day supplies of maintenance medications and prescription refills online or over the phone.
I was delighted to attend the grand opening of the pharmacy in January.
Update on Historic Underground Railroad Site in Chelsea
The struggle to protect the historic Underground Railroad site in Chelsea at 339 West 29th Street continues. Several years ago, community preservation advocates identified eleven 19th Century Greek Revival row houses on West 29th Street (originally called Lamartine Place) between Eighth and Ninth Avenues that are worthy of historic preservation. The Landmark Preservation Commission voted to create the "Lamartine Place Historic District," which would preserve this block, and specifically designated 339 West 29th as an historic property.
However, the property is still in danger of being permanently altered. The owner illegally constructed an additional floor and mislead the Dept. of Buildings (DOB) about its floor plans. The Buildings Department issued a partial stop-work order on the property (allowing only fire safety work) and has issued a violation declaring the construction illegal. In January, I met with the DOB to find out what course of action can be taken against the building owner.
The owner has notified the DOB of its intent to appeal to the City's Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). The DOB is required to provide certain documents to the owner for its case before the BSA, including the list of objections in which DOB rejected the applications request for building permits. As it stands, an addition to 339 West 29th Street would violate the State Multiple Dwelling Law and the City "Sliver Law." However, BSA has the authority to allow variances to these laws.
If the Buildings Department order is upheld by the BAS, then DOB will proceed to enforce its order and make the owner remove the illegal construction.
I intend to submit comments to the BSA, encouraging it to reject the owner's appeal to complete the additional floors. It is important that this row of houses remain looking as they did during a remarkable time in our City's history.
Health Committee Update
As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Health, it is my job to oversee the consideration of health policy legislation in the Assembly.
Here are some of the bills the committee passed at its weekly meetings in January:
Tougher Penalties for Public Health Violations - Raises the maximum civil penalty that can be imposed by a local health department for violations of the Public Health Law from $1,000 to $2,000, to match the penalty that can be imposed by the State Health Department for the same violations. (A.346, Paulin)
Preventing Ipecac Abuse - Requires that ipecac (which induces vomiting) be sold "behind the counter" to curb abuse. (A.372, Hoyt)
Lupus Education and Outreach Programs - Authorizes a Lupus education and outreach program and establishes an income tax check-off for the program. (A.460, Gibson)
Streamlining Health Plan Credentialing of Providers - Simplifies the process by which health care providers may be included in a health care plan's network , using standard forms to be developed by the Commissioner of Health and the Superintendent of Insurance. (A.575, Gottfried)
Creating Fair Insurance Practices - The following three bills would prevent inappropriate insurance practices:
Bars health plans from changing a patient's prescriptions without the prescriber's consent, and bars contracts limiting a physician from referring a patient to an out-of-network provider. (A.594, Gottfried)
Provides that if a health plan fails to act on a patient's appeal of a denial of coverage for a service, it shall be deemed an approval rather than a disapproval. (A.659, Gottfried)
Provides that in a health plan internal review of a denial of coverage for a service, the reviewer must be a physician in the specialty involved; this is currently the rule for external appeals. (A.662, Gottfried)
Changes in Hospital Ownership or Control - Would ensure that hospital mergers and affiliations that significantly affect a community's health care would be reviewed by the State Public Health and Health Planning Council (formerly the State Public Health Council) and the Health Department. This bill closes loopholes to require public approval of hospital mergers and acquisitions. (A.660, Gottfried)
Protecting Sexual Assault Victims - Provides for hospitals to offer prophylaxis HIV drug treatment for victims of sexual assault who may have been exposed to HIV, with financial assistance from the Crime Victims Board. (A.669, Jaffee)
Reporting Chemicals in Cigarettes - Requires tobacco product manufacturers to disclose additives and product design characteristics and to identify those that have been determined to be toxic. (A.82, Paulin)
Expanding Access to Emergency Contraception - Allows dispensing of FDA-approved over-the-counter emergency contraception through a non-patient-specific prescription. (A.85, Paulin)
Creating Autism Assessment Centers - Authorizes Comprehensive Autism Assessment Centers that are designed to ensure that children with autism spectrum disorders will receive a comprehensive assessment, allowing for more direct and effective treatment in children. (A.413, Gunther)
Nursing Home Care Standards - Establishes a "patient diversion" system for nursing homes that are unable to provide a minimum standard of care or services. New patients would not be admitted until the nursing home met care standards. (A.551, Gottfried)
Disposition of Human Remains - Simplifies the process for a person to designate the person who will have responsibility for disposing of his or her human remains. (A.591, Gottfried)
Adult Home Resident Abuse Reporting - Requires health care and other professionals to report cases of abuse, mistreatment, or neglect of residents in adult homes and assisted living residences. (A.600, Magnarelli)
Nurse Practitioners Certifying Vaccination Exemptions - Allows licensed nurse practitioners to certify that a required vaccination would be detrimental to a child's health, as physicians currently can do. (A.654, Gottfried)
Limiting Cancer Risks - Prevents a tanning salon operator from allowing the use of a tanning bed by anyone under the age of 18. Recently, the World Health Organization raised the use of a tanning bed to its highest cancer risk category. (A.1074, Weisenberg)
The Safe Patient Handling Act - One of the greatest risks patients and staff face in a hospital is injury caused during patient transport within the facility. This bill will establish a statewide safe patient handling policy to prevent such injuries. (A.1370, Lancman)
Qualifications for Medical Examiners and Coroners - Requires the Commissioner of Health to develop and administer training programs, minimum qualifications, and procedures and standards for coroners and medical examiners. These do not exist now. (A.656, Gottfried)
Well Water Education Act - Requires the Department of Health to prepare educational materials on the importance of testing drinking water wells. Real estate agents would provide the material to buyers of homes served by wells. (A.671, Jaffee)
Pain Management Protection - Protects health care professionals from criminal liability and professional discipline for prescribing and administering pain medication when they act within accepted professional standards. Physicians and others are some-times reluctant to prescribe appropriate pain man-agement out of fear of wrongful prosecution. (A.732, Gottfried)
Labor Considerations for Health Facilities - Requires the Health Department to consider an applicant's history of labor law compliance when granting, renewing, or revoking operating certificates for hospitals, nursing homes, HMOs, and home health agencies and when appointing temporary receiver for a facility. (A.804, Gantt)
Lowering Prescription Drug Prices - Uses the state's bargaining leverage (called "bulk purchasing") to get lower drug prices for individuals who lack prescription drug coverage (or have gaps in their coverage) and have a house-hold income below 350% of the poverty level. (A.805, Gottfried)
Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) Transparency - "Pharmacy benefit managers" administer drug coverage for health plans, including negotiating discounts with drug manufactures. There have been serious cases of PBMs dishonestly profiteering at the expense of health plans, imposing additional costs on beneficiaries and employers. This bill would require financial transparency and require PBMs to operate in the interest of their health plan clients. (A.809, Gottfried)
Early Intervention Funding - Health insurers have commonly avoided paying for Early Intervention ser-vices, thus requiring state and local governments to pay for these services (for children with disabilities under age 3). This bill would provide that health insurers no longer have to cover these services, and instead would assess health insurers to help fund Early Intervention. (A.812, Paulin)
Preserving Patients' Rights - Requires hospitals to post notices about patient rights to receive care re-gardless of immigration status and bars hospitals from inquiring about a patient's immigration status. (A.841, Ortiz)
Assisting Patients with Visual Impairment - The following two bills would help patients who are blind or have low vision:
Requires designated health facilities to provide patient documents in large print format, language assistance services and audio recordings. (A.969, Kellner)
Provides all blind and visually impaired pa-tients with an audio recording of their discharge plan. (A.1469, Rosenthal)
Food Allergy Awareness - Requires the Department of Health to establish educational materials and programs about food allergens for public eating establishments, with authority for regulations on disclosure and posting. (A.1062, Ortiz)
E-Cigarette Limitations - Prohibits the sale of "electronic cigarettes" to minors, and bans the sale to adults unless they are approved by the FDA for tobacco use cessation or harm reduction. (A.1468, Rosenthal)
Preventing Illegal Cigarette Distribution - Prevents illegal cigarette sales by strengthening the state's cigarette shipment law and enacting civil penalties for offenders. (A.1589, Dinowitz)
Artificial Night Light - Requires the Department of Health to study the potential health effects of night-time artificial lighting. (A.1833, Rosenthal)
Spina Bifida Education and Outreach Program - Authorizes the Department of Health to establish a spina bifida education and outreach program. (A.1884, Ortiz)
Blood Donation Drives; Grant Program - Would authorize grants to assist local community groups for conducting blood drives, within amounts appropriated for that purpose. (A.2115, Gottfried)
Simplifying Access to Health Care Proxies - Requires only one witness signature, not two, for a health care proxy, and makes forging a health care proxy a felony. Protects a patient's wishes to preferred treatment by streamlining the process of acquiring a health care proxy. (A.2186, Rosenthal)
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