State pols rail against Cuomo’s proposed Medicaid cuts amid COVID-19 crisis

Senator Julia Salazar

March 29, 2020

Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to move forward with the state's plans to cut $2.5 billion to its Medicaid program and forego up to $6 billion in COVID-19 relief from the federal government, he said Sunday afternoon during a coronavirus COVID-19 press briefing at the state Capitol in Albany.

ALBANY — Democratic legislators blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday for proposing historic budget cuts to state health care and hospitals that would make New York ineligible for up to $6 billion in federal aid for coronavirus COVID-19.

The state’s second Medicaid Redesign Team voted on proposed Medicaid cuts to eligibility, service levels and more March 18, which included provisions that would slash millions of dollars to hospitals across the state.

“It is appalling that in the middle of this emergency when we’re seeing more positive cases, the governor’s office sent my district an email saying that they’re going to cut nearly $10 million to Woodhull, the public safety net hospital in our district,” Brooklyn Sen. Julia Salazar, D-18, said during a video press conference Sunday about the proposed cuts.

The hospital cuts, which were announced in an email late last week, include additional cuts to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, the senator said.

“Where the first reported coronavirus death was,” she added. “It’s absolutely insulting.”

President Donald Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law March 18, which includes a provision to allow states to draw down a significant chunk of cash for Medicaid — the public health insurance program for low-income people — during the national health emergency. The provision increases the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, or FMAP, to 6.2%.

New York would receive up to $6 billion under the emergency aid bill on the condition the state does not impose Medicaid cuts or changes to the program.

In January, Cuomo convened the state’s second Medicaid Redesign Team to help close a projected $4 billion gap in the 2020-21 Fiscal Year executive budget, which deadlines April 1. The team was tasked to find ways to scale back $2.5 billion in Medicaid spending and voted on the recommended changes March 19.

If New York implements Medicaid cuts as planned, the state would be ineligible to receive federal aid from the Legislature’s first COVID-19 relief bill. The state projects a $10-15 billion budget shortfall because of the pandemic’s devastating impact on local and national markets.

“How do you do a budget with that big a hole?” Cuomo asked Sunday. “We all believed [the bill] was going to have money to help us with the revenue shortfall, and then it didn’t. Now we have to do the budget next week...Now we have to make drastic cuts from the budget like you have never seen.”

Cuts are slated for Medicaid and state education, which makes up one-third of New York’s fiscal plan.

The governor said Sunday he has no choice but to go forward with the state’s planned Medicaid cuts and forego the federal government’s $6 billion, arguing a recurring savings of $2.5 billion in the budget each year would be more than a one-time payout.

“I have no choice,” Cuomo said. “$2.5 billion per year recurring is worth more than $6 billion one-shot. I’d rather have 2.5, 2.5, 2.5 than $6 billion today. I called every congressional representative and told them ‘Why would you want to stop a Medicaid redesign that’s been going on since January?’

“I don’t know what their political calculus was...but it didn’t represent the people of the state. I don’t know what political interests they’re trying to protect.”

State Budget Director Robert Mujica argued the state would likely receive about $4 billion compared to the federal government’s projected $6 billion under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and only if the national emergency remains in place for a full year.

“We can’t get to the $6 billion number no matter how you estimate those numbers,” Mujica said, adding much of the relief would go to the state’s local governments. “It [the relief funding] will end as soon as the president declares the emergency is over. That could happen at any time.

“If it’s only half a year, you’re left with a number that’s under $2 billion, which you’re saying is a one-shot of these funds, you don’t reform the Medicaid system and spend the money inefficiently on a system everyone unanimously understood was not working properly.”

Several lawmakers in New York’s congressional delegation and other federal legislators debated a technical fix in its $2.2 trillion economic recovery bill to give Cuomo the flexibility to change the state’s Medicaid program. The final bill, which the House passed Friday, did not include the provision.

Cuomo criticized U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Sunday and several other days earlier this week for voting in favor of the legislation.

“It’d be nice if he passed a piece of legislation that helped the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “The piece of legislation he passed stopped the state from a process that was happening for six months, which was redesigning the Medicaid program to make it more efficient and more effective. It takes waste and fraud and inefficiency in the system.”

Schumer’s spokeswoman said Friday the bill would benefit both New York state and its localities by adjusting the formulas that determine federal Medicaid funding.

“The coronavirus response bill passed a few weeks ago provided $6.7 billion in annual Emergency Medicaid aid for New York,” said Allison Biasotti, Schumer’s spokeswoman. “The funds are flowing to New York and there is no legal barrier to them being put to good use ASAP.”

Democratic sources on Capitol Hill said the provision to allow states to make changes to Medicaid was omitted for good reason, according to Tribune News Service.

The change would have allowed cash-strapped governors to enact deep cuts in Medicaid nationwide during a pandemic when low-income people cannot afford to lose their health care, the Democratic sources said. In addition, congressional Democrats feared including the language Cuomo wanted might have forced them to make other concessions to Republicans in the bill.

New York’s state government will receive about $5 billion from the latest federal emergency bill, Cuomo said, which can only be used for COVID-19 response efforts and does not help the projected $10-15 billion budget shortfall.

Sens. Robert Jackson, D-31; Gustavo Riveria, D-33; and Salazar joined representatives from lobby groups in a video press conference Sunday to rail against the governor’s plan to cut state education and Medicaid and their plans to fight

“The governor is suggesting that the same system that is going to keep people alive and healthy during this crisis, immediately afterward should be hit on the back of the head with a two-by-four,” Rivera said. “Every time the governor gets up from that table, after he talks about not attaching a dollar figure to peoples’ lives, he stands up and goes into a back room to negotiate with the Legislature and says he wants to continue his mission to cut Medicaid.”

State lawmakers are prepared to fight against the proposed Medicaid cuts.

“The people elected us and we are here to represent them,” Jackson said. “The governor may say he’s doing that, but if you ask the people I represent, he is not. I have to stand up and fight. We have to be willing to stand up and say no. I was sent to Albany to advocate for the people I represent, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

State legislators will return to session Monday. Assemblymembers are expected to pass a resolution providing special, temporary procedures during a declared state of emergency to allow lawmakers to vote remotely and continue the legislative process and pass the state budget by Wednesday’s deadline.