Medicaid expansion will compound state’s crisis

George D. Maziarz

January 25, 2010

(Op-ed piece that ran in The Buffalo News, January 2010, by: Congressman Chris Lee, Senator George Maziarz, Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, Assemblyman Jim Hayes, Assemblyman Jack Quinn, Assemblyman Stephen Hawley and Assemblywoman Jane Corwin.)

The final health care legislation shaping up in Washington may have a direct, negative impact on our state budget crisis in Albany.

We have grave concerns that unfunded mandates and sweetheart deals being negotiated behind closed doors will mean new taxes and greater burdens for families here at home.

The Senate-passed health care bill, which is the basis for the final legislation now under negotiation, expands Medicaid eligibility to those making 133 percent of the federal poverty level (Medicaid is the joint federal-state health program for low-income families). According to Gov. David A. Paterson, the bill will require state taxpayers to cover 50 percent of the new costs. In a recent op-ed in this paper, the governor wrote that, “Under the Senate bill, New York will face close to $1 billion annually in new Medicaid costs.”

New York’s current Medicaid obligations are already breaking the bank. In 2007, New York spent $44.3 billion on Medicaid to serve 5.1 million people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Compare that to California, which spent $35.9 billion to serve 10.2 million people. New York State alone represents 14 percent of the total Medicaid spending in the United States. In fact, Medicaid spending in New York accounted for 20 percent of the total state budget this year, and State Health Commissioner Richard Daines already projects Medicaid spending to increase by another 12 percent next year.

Western New Yorkers need no reminder that our state is in the midst of a severe budget crisis. This fiscal year’s deficit is projected to top $3.2 billion, and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told the New York Times recently that, “New York State is officially living paycheck to paycheck.” What’s more, the situation is deteriorating. New York faces a projected $40 billion budget shortfall over the next three years.

We cannot continue to pass these shortfalls on to future generations in the form of huge tax increases and draconian cuts to essential services.

While cash-strapped states like New York are being asked to pay more, other states are being exempted from these new costs. In the Senate bill, 100 percent of Nebraska’s new Medicaid costs will be assumed by the federal government. Louisiana will receive $300 million in extra Medicaid assistance, and Vermont will receive $250 million.

Expanding budget-busting programs with new, unfunded mandates is not reform. We need to tighten our belts and pass common-sense legislation that truly reforms the health care system and lowers costs without wreaking havoc on New York State’s budget and the taxpayers who work hard to fund it.