New York Health Advocates and Stakeholder Allies Gather for 3rd Annual Round of Regional Health Insurance Summits

According to the U.S. Census, New York continues to do very well in lowering the number of uninsured.  The latest numbers released on Sept. 16 show that we’re down to 8.7%, a full 2% reduction during 2014 alone, the first year of the various new coverage options available under the Affordable Care Act.  Since these new options became available, over 2.5 million New Yorkers have enrolled in coverage through the state’s new health benefits exchange marketplace known as “New York State of Health” (NYSOH) as of this summer.  89% of them were previously uninsured.  90% of them report satisfaction with their coverage, according to a study by the New York State Health Foundation.

While this is all good news, there are plenty of “still uninsured” New Yorkers out there.  With that in mind, and in anticipation of the upcoming Open Enrollment Period which begins on November 1st, leaders of Health Care for All New York, the Healthcare Education Project, and the Community Healthcare Association of New York have joined forces once again to convene a series of 8 regional meetings across the state during this Sept. and Oct.  They are designed to bring all the various local stakeholders together to discuss how to keep building on the enrollment successes to date, and brief them on the new, low-cost “Essential Plan” for moderate-income people and families who don’t qualify for public programs because of their income.

The first of these “Health Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Summits” was held for the Hudson Valley on Sept. 17 in Fishkill, attended by approximately 75 people.  The program began with a presentation from Danielle Holahan, Deputy Director for NYSOH, and Piper Allport, the organization’s Outreach Director.  They discussed the latest data and plans for the upcoming open enrollment period, with a spotlight on the Essential Plan and how they will be promoting it.  They were followed by a panel of stakeholders doing outreach and enrollment in the region including Maternal and Infant Services, Westchester Disabled on the Move, MVP Healthcare, Mount Vernon Neighborhood Health Center, and the Westchester Dept. of Health.  The panelists shared their experiences over the past two years, discussed lessons learned, and offered recommendations for the year ahead.  In the final hour, attendees broke up into smaller groups to discuss and brainstorm ideas for what could be done and how they might collaborate.

Upcoming summits will be held in the following regions:

  • NYC: Bronx-Manhattan – Fri. afternoon Sept. 25 in Manhattan
  • Long Island – Mon. morning Oct. 5 in Hicksville
  • NYC: Staten Island – Tues. morning Oct. 6
  • Central New York – Tues. afternoon Oct. 6 in Binghamton
  • Western New York – Thurs. morning Oct. 8 in Buffalo
  • Capital District – Thurs. afternoon Oct. 8 in Albany
  • NYC: Brooklyn-Queens – Wed. morning Oct. 21 in Brooklyn
Full details of times, locations, and how to register can be found at  RSVPs are strongly encouraged so that organizers can plan for adequate space and refreshments.

New Yorkers Proclaim “Medicare and Medicaid: American as Apple Pie”

July 30th was a busy and heady day for New York City’s health care justice movement!   It started off with a wonderfully uplifting celebration of the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid that took place in the morning at the Professional Staff Congress Union Hall in lower Manhattan.  The place was packed.

BD card    M&M 50 cake

Celebrants were honored to be joined by HHS Region 2 Director Jackie Cornell-Bechelli and her Region 2 CMS Director Frank Winter, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (NY-7th CD, Brooklyn & Queens) , NYS Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (Manhattan), NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, and staff from Rep. Joe Crowley and the NYC Dept. for the Aging.  Thereafter, brief remarks were given by from Dr. Matthews Hurley (Doctors Council, SEIU), Dr. Hemant Sindhu (Committee of Interns and Residents, SEIU), Steve Toff (NY State Nurses Assoc.), Andrew Leonard (Children’s Defense Fund), Chris Widelo (AARP-NY), Audrey Iszard (NYS Alliance for Retired Americans), Mario Henry (NY Statewide Senior Action Council), Monnie Callan (1199 SEIU Retirees), and Vince Gaglione (UFT Retirees).  The formal program closed out with a panel of activists talking about what is needed now to “protect, improve, and expand” Medicare and Medicaid, including John Hyland (Professional Staff Congress), Krystal Scott (Medicare Rights Center), Heidi Siegfried (Center for Independence of the Disabled in NY), Dr. Oliver Fein (Physicians for a National Health Program), and Mark Hannay (Metro NY Health Care for All).  The event ended by sharing in apple pie, and a cake proclaiming “Hurray for Medicare and Medicaid at 50!”

N Velazquez L James

DG lectern pic

For the afternoon, a dozen or so attendees crossed over the harbor to join Staten Island trade unionists and activists at Staten Island Borough Hall for a press conference calling on the NYC Congressional delegation to protect, improve, and expand Medicare and Medicaid in the current budget fight.  Earlier this year, the Republican majority adopted a budget resolution to cut trillions from various health care programs over the next decade, rather than close corporate tax loopholes and giveaways, end wasteful military spending, and restore taxes on the wealthy.  After taking the obligatory photos for various communications purposes, just as the first speaker began the skies suddenly opened and it rained torrents for a good 10-15 min.  Despite umbrellas, all ended up soaked to the bone, yet maintained good spirits.

SI ferry SIBH 3

The salvation was that a handful then left for a scheduled meeting with the office of Rep. Dan Donovan, the newly-elected Congressmember from Staten Island, and the only member of the House Republican majority from NYC.  The group met with his District Director (Brendan Landry) and Constituent Services Director to express our concerns about ideas on the table in the budget negotiations that will severely impact Medicare and Medicaid.  The attendees took along a homemade apple pie (just out of the oven!) made by UFT retiree Teri Caliari, and a gigantic homemade Medicare birthday card signed by a doctors and nurses from two Staten Island hospitals.  Since Rep. Donovan’s staff were both new in their roles, participants spent much of the meeting informing them of the bad ideas congressional leaders were pushing and why they are not good for New York and New Yorkers.  They seemed engaged on the issues, enjoyed the pie, appreciated the card, and promised to convey our views to Rep. Donovan.

D Donovan card

New Yorkers to Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid

July 30th is the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, and New Yorkers are going to celebrate!  After 5 decades, both programs are certainly “as American as apple pie!” 

50 BD Cake

The Restore the American Promise campaign is coordinating Medicare and Medicaid anniversary celebrations all across New York State.  Here in NYC, the No Bad Grand Bargain network and their allies are bringing various organizations and unions together for two special events on July 30th.

In the morning, there will be a celebration at the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY in lower Manhattan starting at 10 a.m.  It will feature public officials and community leaders, cake and more!  Full details can be found here: RSVPs requested please!


In the afternoon, there will be a press conference at 2 p.m. on the steps of Staten Island Borough Hall, to call on members of the New York City Congressional delegation to “protect, improve, and expand” (“PIE”) Medicare and Medicaid in their ongoing budget negotiations.

HST MdCr card

Taken together, Medicare and Medicaid have helped millions of older and disabled New Yorkers and our families since President Johnson signed up President Truman as the very first Medicare enrollee.  Currently, 4 million New Yorkers are covered by Medicare, and 6 million by Medicaid – that’s nearly one-half of all residents.  In addition, both programs provide the financial foundation for our state’s entire health care system, benefiting ALL New Yorkers.  In short, these programs have been a smashing success for New York and America, and underscore the essential role of government in providing health care as a human right.

NY MA card

Unfortunately, there are proposals in Congress to drastically change the fundamentals of and/or cut funding for both these bedrock social programs.  The Joint Budget Resolution adopted in early May calls for hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts to both of them over the next decade, including turning Medicare into a voucher program for private insurance.  Continued vigilance to protect these programs remains necessary.  Yet we also know there are ways to make these programs better, including direct price negotiations with drug companies, cracking down on provider fraud, promoting care coordination, and adding benefits such as dental, vision, and long-term care.  Finally of course, we need to move forward toward fully-universal health care by expanding Medicare to cover all in America.

New York Health Advocates Prepare for Assembly Vote on Universal Health Care Bill

With about a month left in New York State’s 2015 Legislative Session, leaders and members of the Campaign for New York Health have launched their final push to assure a floor vote on the “New York Health Act” (S.3525/A.5062, Perkins-Gottfried.)  The Act would create a fully-public universal health care program providing comprehensive insurance coverage for all New York residents.

 CNYH WCDB graphic

The Campaign is feeling cautiously upbeat after their successful annual Albany advocacy day in early May when it was announced that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) had promised to allow a floor vote.  On that day, 300 New Yorkers visited all 80 sponsors of the bill in the Assembly to thank them for their support and urge it be voted upon.  It is likely to move to the floor by early June, prior to the final two weeks of the session when other “must-pass” bills will be taken up and negotiated out.  The bill is not expected to be considered in Senate this year.

Organizations who have endorsed the Act are being asked to submit legislative memos on the bill.  Individuals who support it are being asked to either submit a postcard to Speaker Heastie or sign an online petition to him.  Meetings and press events are also being scheduled with selected Assemblymembers around the state, to begin to educate local media and the public about how the Act would benefit patients and their families, workers and their employers, health care professionals and institutions, communities and local governments.  OpEds are also being prepared for placement in newspapers, and grassroots social media networks activated.  An independent economic study released by the Campaign in March estimated $45 billion net savings to New Yorkers annually under the Act.

If the Assembly votes in favor of the Act, it will make a significant political statement on the direction of health care reform in New York.  While New York has done very well enrolling uninsured people in new coverage plans available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – over 2.1 million as of February – New York Health proponents say “We can do more and better.”  Under the ACA, states are eligible to pursue new ways to move toward fully universal health care programs beginning in 2017, which will require special waivers from the federal government.  The Assembly last passed a former version of the bill back in 1992.

UPDATE:  The New York State Assembly passed the New York Health Act on May 27.  The vote was 92 in favor to 52 opposed.  The AP story on the debate and vote provides a good summary.  Here’s a listing of the vote count.

New York Universal Health Care Advocates Head to Albany to Promote “New York Health Act”

 Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), New York State has made tremendous strides in reducing the number of uninsured by well more than 2 million people, and insurance premiums have dropped by more than 50% (on average.)  That’s all great news.  However, we can do more …and better!

Starting in 2017, the ACA allows states to apply for federal waivers to move toward truly universal health care programs.  Our neighbors in Vermont have been making moves in that direction since 2011, although that effort has unexpectedly stalled out for the time being, for various reasons internal to the state.

NYH banner pic

 Here in New York, we have our own idea: 

 The “New York Health Act” (S.3525/A.5062, Perkins-Gottfried) would create a fully-public universal health care program covering all New Yorkers.  In sum, it would provide comprehensive benefits with no out-of-pocket costs, with access to almost all health care providers across the state.  It would be paid for by combining various federal health care funding streams (Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, ACA, etc.) with sliding-scale assessments on employers’ payrolls, and new taxes on individuals’ non-wage/investment income, all going into one public trust fund.  The program would be administered by a public entity, thereby eliminating the role of private insurers and their narrow provider networks in paying for and providing health care services.  The Act has been endorsed by scores of unions, community groups, health professional associations, and faith-based organizations, along with a few political parties and local governmental bodies.

The Campaign for New York Health (CNYH) has been established to spearhead statewide advocacy for the New York Health Act.  We at Metro are proud to be serving on its strategic planning committee, and participating on its Labor Support Task Force.  You can find all kinds of information about the law and CNYH at their website.  Be sure to take a particular look at a special independent study of the Act’s financing – it was commissioned by CNYH and conducted by Gerald Friedman, Chair of the Economics Dept. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who’s a specialist in analyzing state-based universal health care programs.

 bus pic

Next Tuesday, May 5th, New Yorkers from all corners of the state will be converging on Albany to meet with Assemblymembers.  We’ll be talking with them about the importance of New York moving ahead with a universal health care program, and how the New York Health Act provides a very good way to do that.  CNYH’s goal is to have a floor vote on the bill before the end of this year’s legislative session in late June.

People can RSVP for FREE transportation here.  There’s a special union-sponsored bus leaving from Bellevue Hospital, along with vans leaving from various neighborhoods across the boroughs.  For those getting there on your own, click here for the day’s schedule and parking info.

Participants are asked to RSVP for the day here, regardless of your transportation needs, so that CNYH can make adequate preparations for the day.

Health Care Advocates View Congressional Budget Resolutions with Much Alarm

In just over one week earlier this month, congressional leaders unveiled and approved budget resolutions for the upcoming 2016 Fiscal Year that starts on October 1st.  They each embody an overall austerity approach to spending (except for defense), and revenue proposals that create no new income and cut taxes further for upper-income people and large corporations.  They also put “entitlement programs” squarely in the bullseye: Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP/Food Stamps, and (indirectly) Social Security.  Overall analyses of the House and Senate budget resolutions by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reveal the ugly details. 

 ledger & pencil

Health care is always a very significant portion of the federal budget, and both the House and Senate resolutions propose large funding cuts and/or structural changes to health care programs.  What’s in their resolutions has raised much concern among health care advocates, particularly about the future of Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act (ACA.)

First, a bit on the larger context:

As many politicians proclaim, budgets are indeed the financial embodiments of our shared values as a society and nation.  Every budget has two parts: a) what we spend money on, how, how much, and why (spending policy); and b) where and who we get the money from to pay for all our spending, how we raise it, how much, and why (tax policy.)  When one looks at the federal spending in particular, there are a couple of additional ways to “slice-and-dice” it: mandatory vs. discretionary, and defense vs. non-defense.  The major federal health care programs are all mandatory:  Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the most of the ACA.  That means that however many people may qualify for a given program, the government is required to provide the necessary funding, whatever it may be.

As for the budget process, it all starts in early February with the President putting out a proposal.  That is followed by congressional hearings where administration officials answer questions on it.  In mid-late March, congressional leaders put out their own proposals (which may or may not align with the President’s), and each chamber passes its own resolution.  By mid-late April, they try to agree on a joint resolution, and each adopt it.  It does not go to the President for signature.  It is just a blueprint to guide the subsequent detailed appropriations process that then occurs over the course of the late spring, summer, and early fall.

In total, 12 appropriations bills (each covering related groups of funding – one of them for health and human services) are (supposed to be) passed before by October 1st when the new fiscal year begins.  These bills are negotiated with the President and require his/her agreement and signature.  In addition, Congress has the option each year to invoke “reconciliation instructions” for certain appropriations bills so as to use the budget process to enact broader policy goals while foregoing the Senate’s 60-vote “cloture” process, in order to move such bills forward on a simple majority vote.  The ACA was enacted in early 2010 per reconciliation instructions adopted in 2009.

 stethoscope on ledger

As for health care provisions in this year’s Congressional budget resolutions (based on an analysis by the National Priorities Project):


  • President Obama proposes to save $430M over 10 years by a) raising Part B and D premiums for wealthy beneficiaries, b) requiring co-payments for home health care, and c) negotiating lower prices for certain high-price specialty drugs
  • The House Resolution raises Part B and D premiums for wealthy beneficiaries, and privatizes Medicare for beneficiaries who become eligible starting in 2025 by providing them vouchers to purchase private insurance.
  • The Senate Resolution generates $430M over 10 years but does not specify how, instead leaving it up to the appropriations process to figure that out.

Medicaid and CHIP:

  • President Obama proposes no major changes to either program, and renews CHIP funding for another 4 years.
  • The House Resolution proposes to a) repeal the expansions made under the ACA, b) combine with CHIP, c) block grant them, and d) reduce the combined spending by nearly $1 trillion over 10 years.
  • The Senate Resolution proposes to a) repeal the expansions made under the ACA, b) combines Medicaid with other mandatory domestic spending programs (CHIP, SNAP/Food Stamps), and c) cuts them in total by $4.3 trillion over 10 years, but does not specify how.

Affordable Care Act:

  • President Obama proposes to no major changes.
  • The House Resolution repeals the law, and invokes the reconciliation process.
  • The Senate Resolution repeals the law, and invokes the reconciliation process.

Meanwhile, many health advocates look to the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ “People’s Budget” as a preferred alternative.  Among its health care provisions are:

  • Repeals the excise “cadillac” tax on top-quality employer-sponsored health plans
  • Creates a “public health insurance option” to be offered on the new health benefit exchange marketplaces
  • Directs Medicare to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers
  • Closes some Medicare tax loopholes
  • Continues funding for the State Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 4 years
  • Expedites approvals of state single-payer programs

When Congress returns to session in mid-April, leaders will strive to work out the differences between the House and Senate resolutions, and then proceed to the appropriations bill process to culminate by late September.  Those bills will have to be negotiated with and signed by the President by October 1st when the government’s new fiscal year begins.

 NYS CD map

What’s happening here in New York:

Since the debt ceiling fight in the summer of 2011, health care advocates have joined forces with other social justice advocates and labor unions in the statewide “Restore the American Promise” (RAP) campaign.  It is based on the premise that by joining forces, various issue advocates have more strength and effectiveness, vs. operating solely in their own silos.  Collectively, RAP focuses on issues of:

  • Protecting and improving health care and social programs
  • Fostering economic growth (vs. imposing budget austerity)
  • Restoring tax fairness (vs. preserving and expanding special tax breaks and loopholes)
  • Prioritizing job creation and income security
  • Ending wasteful military spending

RAP holds bi-weekly conference calls, and conducts its work through local coalitions in politically strategic regions of the state.  It undertakes simultaneous, coordinated actions raising up particular priority issues at a given moment in time, depending on what’s happening in Washington.  Activities include urging Congressmembers to “do the right thing”, holding them accountable for their positions and votes, educating the public on key issues, and engaging local media.

Here in New York City, the RAP affiliate coalition is known as the “No Bad Grand Bargain” (NBGB) network, founded in 2012.  NBGB has focused on working with members of the NYC congressional delegation who are members of the Progressive Caucus, shoring up centrist politicians to fight for the needs of everyday New Yorkers, and working with local groups in the 11th Congressional District, which covers Staten Island and a part of South Brooklyn, because it is often a swing district.

Advocates Mobilize as Medicare Payment Reform and Children’s Health Insurance Funding Bill Emerges and Proceeds in Congress

Two major health care issues long being pushed by advocates as needing Congressional action are finally moving forward as Congress approaches the coming Easter-Passover recess period, and they are being combined into one major bill.  The particular matters concern a) reforming the method and formula by which Medicare pays for physician services, and b) continued funding for the State Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP.)


First up, the CHIP story…

This program was created in 1996 in the wake of the failure of the Clinton administration’s comprehensive health care initiative of 1993-4 (“The Health Security Act”.)  It was a bipartisan effort in Congress spearheaded by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), with support from then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA.)  It provides funding to states to provide health insurance for uninsured children in low and moderate income families, either through Medicaid, a special program, or some combination thereof.  New York has a mixed/blended program, which was created under the Pataki administration in 1997, building off of a rudimentary children’s health coverage program that had been created by his predecessor Mario Cuomo.

The program came up for reauthorization in 2007 and a 2-year fight ensued to do so, during which then President George W. Bush vetoed it 3 times because he did not support the expansions being promoted by Democratic congressional leaders.  Shortly after President Obama took office in 2009, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) was finally enacted, to continue the program for another decade, and it included several improvements to cover more children, cover more benefits, and streamline enrollment.  However, actual funding for the full 10 year period was not included.  When the Affordable Care Act was enacted a year later in 2010, it provided funding up through 2015, and required states to maintain the CHIP programs they had in place with no cutbacks, despite the impacts of the Great Recession on state budgets.

Overall, CHIP has been a smashing success, and a rare bipartisan-supported program.  It covers 8M children nationally, including almost 300,000 here in New York.  The uninsured rate for children has dropped dramatically, and is now very low in New York.  The coverage is tailored toward the needs of children and adolescents, and is available to all children:  at no-cost (via Medicaid) for low-income families; low-cost for working-poor and moderate income families, and full-cost (still quite affordable) for upper-income families.  In short, we have universal coverage available for all children in New York.

While CHIP per se is in place legally for still another 4 years, the funding authorized for it ends as of Sept. 30 of this year.  Since many states, like New York, are developing and adopting their annual budgets now, action by Congress is needed pretty immediately and cannot wait until the fall, as states need clarity and certainty on the matter in order to plan accordingly.  This situation has engendered a “must-do” dynamic in Congress.  The current bill in the House (H.R. 2) would provide funding for CHIP as is for another 2 years, essentially punting the whole matter to the next President and Congress who will take office in 2017.  Congress says it will pay for this extension by booking additional savings to Medicaid reductions under its new budget proposals that came out last week (…and all of that is the subject of another whole blog post here sometime soon.)

 medical team discussing results

Meanwhile, concerning Medicare payments to doctors,…

Back in 1997 as part of the Balanced Budget Act, Congress attributed budget savings to Medicare under a “Sustainable Growth Rate” (SGR) formula that envisioned gradual reimbursement rate reductions for physicians over time.  However, every time since then when one of these cuts were to happen, physicians would threaten to stop taking Medicare claiming they would not be receiving adequate payments, and Medicare patients would clamor for Congress to forego the decreases.  As a consequence, for nearly 2 decades now the “SGR problem” has continually resurfaced as a political crisis with piecemeal, temporary patch-ups, and the system as a whole was never implemented.  The problem could have been addressed long ago but for how to pay for the cost of foregoing the scheduled reductions, which by now have grown to be quite sizeable in the aggregate.  By now, all stakeholders agree that it must be discontinued and a new method to control physician costs in Medicare put in its place.

Again, enter the Affordable Care Act.

While the ACA is most well-known for its insurance coverage provisions, the law itself also contains many provisions that may be described collectively as “delivery system reforms” which, among other things, encompass payment reforms, either explicit or implicit.  Since the ACA’s enactment some 5 years ago, the Obama administration has proceeded with slowly implementing these provisions, including policies to move away from currently-nearly-universal piecemeal fee-for-service methods to new “alternative payment methods” (APMs) such as bundled payments, global budgets, payments for episodes of treatment, and payment for value and outcomes.  All of these ideas are designed to curtail well-documented financial waste and inefficiency in the U.S. health care system.  Just recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a goal of shifting payment for 50% of Medicare services to these APMs by 2018.

By moving forward with incorporating these APMs into Medicare, Congress has found a way to offset the cost of discarding the SGR scheme.  However, it also is booking some savings/offsets in ways that will affect some Medicare beneficiaries directly in 2 ways: upper-income beneficiaries will pay a slightly higher premium for their Part B coverage, and all beneficiaries will have to incur the standard Part B deductible (currently about $148/year) regardless of whether or not they carry a private supplemental “Medigap” policy or are enrolled in a private “Medicare Advantage” plan.

As for what advocates think of all this,… as with any piece of major legislation, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, reflecting political compromise across both sides of the aisle.

On the one hand, the whole “SGR problem” is finally resolved once and for all and goes away.  However, this progress comes at the cost of some additional out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries, and continued erosion of Medicare’s “universality”, a process that began under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 which introduced various “means-testing” measures into the program.

On the other hand, CHIP funding is renewed “cleanly” without any cutbacks whatsoever (despite what appeared in recent CHIP reform proposals from Congressional leaders, and again that’s a subject for another future post here), and including some scheduled increases in funding to states that will go into effect this fall.  While the House is proposing to extend CHIP funding for only 2 years and not the 4 years needed to align with the program’s existing legal authorization, Democrats in the Senate are signaling that they will push for a 4-year extension.

A couple of other unrecognized aspects of this bill… one good, one problematic.  The bill does continue special ACA funding for 2 years for Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), the Teaching Centers Program, and the National Health Service Corps, which provides placement of newly-graduated health care professionals in medically-underserved communities, such as urban centers and rural counties where physicians are scarce.  However, it bans FQHCs from using the additional money to pay for abortion services, a provision that has aroused opposition from reproductive rights advocates.  Such restrictions have been in place for FQHCs for quite some time now via appropriations bills, but not via statute.

US Capitol

Finally, the politics of it all…

The House bill is expected to pass the bill by the end of this week, but it will likely require more-moderate Republicans joining forces with Democrats to do so, since far-right Republicans are balking at the unpaid-for cost and a straight-forward continuance of CHIP as is.  In fact, this “grand compromise” on Medicare SGR and CHIP is the result of behind-the-scenes negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a move that has surprised everyone and upset Boehner’s more-right-wing colleagues.  The Senate will take up the matter when they return from recess in mid-April.

On the whole, advocates are generally supporting the bill, urging the House to proceed and then turning to the Senate to make improvements.  While the bill has problems and shortcomings, many believe that it’s the best deal possible given the circumstances and players involved, and that by removing these matters from the upcoming budget debates of this spring, summer, and fall, they are protecting them against far worse prospects.

(For a full summary and analysis of the bill, here’s a 4-page brief from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)

New York Health Care Advocates Mobilize for Final State Budget Push and Funding Priorities

As the New York State Legislature’s annual budget session draws to a close by the end of this month, advocates are corralling their forces to influence the negotiations between Governor Cuomo, the State Senate, and the State Assembly, and weighing in with their top policy and funding priorities.

 NYS Capitol

The process began in late January with the Governor’s release of his proposed budget.   The Legislature began its work in early February with a series of joint hearings throughout the month on various parts of the budget, hearing from and questioning the various commissioners and stakeholders, including advocates.  The hearing on health provisions was held on February 2nd.  In late February, the Governor released his 30-day amendments.  In early March, working off the Governor’s proposals, each legislative chamber crafted their own “one-house” bills, which were each enacted by March 12.  Conference committees were then appointed to publicly debate the differences with each other and the Governor, and 3-way negotiations began in private between the Governor, Senate, and Assembly leadership.  A final agreement is expected by late March, with bills voted on by April 1st.


HEALTH CARE FOR ALL NEW YORK (HCFANY), a consumer health advocacy coalition focusing on all things related to Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation, has identified the following issues of importance:

Funding for the “NY State of Health” health benefits exchange marketplace:  As of the end of February, over 2.1 million New Yorkers have enrolled into insurance coverage through this new program since it opened in October 2013, either through Medicaid, Child Health Plus, or the new private “qualified health plans” (QHPs), far exceeding all predictions.  88% of them were previously uninsured, and 80% of those enrolling in private coverage were eligible for financial assistance either in the form of premium subsidies or cost-sharing reductions.   In short, it’s proven a smashing success!

While the federal government has provided administrative funding for the first 2 years of its operations, this marketplace must be self-sustaining starting in 2016.  Governor Cuomo has proposed a modest, broad-based assessment on all insurers in all markets to raise the needed funds, since it serves as the safety net for all uninsured New Yorkers and benefits the state’s entire health insurance system.  The Assembly has agreed with the Governor, and added an important consumer protection that the assessment cannot be passed along to policyholders in their premiums, but rather, must come out of insurers’ windfall profits given all the new customers they now have.  Surprisingly, the Senate did not include any funding mechanism for the marketplace in their one-house bill, saying they disagreed with the Governor’s approach but offering no alternative.

Funding for the “Community Health Advocates” (CHA) program:  CHA is New York’s official consumer assistance program for health insurance, created under the ACA.  It is comprised of a network of non-profits across the state who help people with all kinds of “post-enrollment” issues related to using health insurance, or accessing needed services if they are uninsured.  CHA too has proven a smashing success, serving hundreds of thousands of people and saving them millions of dollars in total since it began in 2010.  With now 2.1 million more New Yorkers gaining coverage, demand for CHA’s services has increased dramatically.

The federal government provided start-up funds for these state consumer assistance programs like CHA, but it ends as of this June.  Governor Cuomo proposed to provide $2.5M to keep the program in operation.  The Assembly raised that amount to $3M, but the Senate one-house bill did not include any funding.  At its previous height of maximum federal funding, CHA operated at $5M/year, providing on-the-ground services in every county statewide, with an additional focus on serving small businesses as well as individual consumers.  As federal funding diminished in the last couple of years, CHA had to scale back that effort.  HCFANY is calling for the Governor and Legislature to restore CHA to the full $5M/year level so that it can return to its formerly-robust level of operations.

Funding for operating a new “Basic Health Program” (BHP):  Under the ACA, states have the option to set up a BHP to provide very low-cost insurance coverage to the working poor who have too much income to qualify for Medicaid yet have difficulty affording the costs of purchasing and using private insurance.  In last year’s budget agreement, a BHP was authorized, making New York only the second state to do so, and the Cuomo administration has proceeded with plans to set one up, with the goal of opening it for enrollment in January 2016.  BHP coverage will be paid for by federal funds, but the administrative costs to operate it won’t.  Governor Cuomo proposed to reallocate existing funding within the Department of Health’s budget to do so, and the Assembly agreed, but the Senate’s one-house bill repealed the whole program.  Senate leaders are apparently worried that come 2017, with a new president and new Congress, the ACA and/or parts of it (such as funding for BHPs) could be repealed, leaving the state responsible for the entire cost of it.

Indigent care funding for hospitals:  The ACA requires that federal “Disproportionate Share Hospital” (DSH) funding be directed to states with high levels of uninsurance who target these funds to hospitals that serve high numbers of Medicaid and uninsured patients.  In 2012, New York revised its Indigent Care Pool (ICP) allocations to meet ACA requirements, but allowed hospitals a three-year transition period to conform.  Now, Governor Cuomo proposed to provide an additional three-year transition period, and the Senate and Assembly agreed.  It is unclear if the federal government will accept this further delay.  HCFANY disagrees with this approach and urges that the ACA’s new system go into effect now so that hospitals that actually provide lots of indigent care receive the DSH funds they deserve, while others that don’t won’t get this funding any longer.

HCFANY also supports the Assembly’s proposal to reconvene the Medicaid Redesign Team Technical Assistance Committee to make recommendations to adjust ICP payments if New York’s DSH funding is reduced because of non-compliance.  In addition, HCFANY supports a proposal from the Governor and Assembly to make the state’s “financial assistance compliance pool” permanent, and opposes the Senate proposal to eliminate it after 2016.  This pool rewards hospitals that comply with the state’s hospital financial assistance law by providing low-income, uninsured patients with access to and help with enrolling in their financial assistance programs.

Private equity demonstration projects:  Governor Cuomo proposes allowing a demonstration project that would allow private equity firms to invest in the restructuring of up to 5 financially-precarious hospitals across the state that operate in medically-underserved areas.  The Senate raises the number of allowable hospitals to ten, while the Assembly opposes the whole idea outright.  HCFANY agrees with the Assembly, and believes that an influx of private equity would inappropriately shift the incentives of these hospitals away from providing access to quality care, particularly low-income and uninsured patients, in favor of creating profits for investors, thereby draining overall financial resources that are desperately needed by these facilities.

 MMNY logo

MEDICAID MATTERS NEW YORK (MMNY), a lead consumer health advocacy coalition focusing on all things related to Medicaid and public insurance programs, has identified the following issues of importance:

New co-pays for some Medicaid patients:  Governor Cuomo has proposed modest co-payments for Medicaid patients enrolled in managed care plans who have incomes above the poverty level (currently, about $16,000/year.)  The Assembly has rejected this idea, and the Senate’s bill is unclear.

Preserve important consumer protections of “spousal and parental refusal” and “prescriber prevails”:  Governor Cuomo has proposed to eliminate the rights of spouses and parents to hold back a given amount of family income and assets from being taken into consideration when being determined eligible for long-term care services under Medicaid, in lieu of having to divorce a spouse or give up custody of a child to the state.  The Senate and Assembly have both rejected this idea, as they have for many years now when proposed by various Governors.

Governor Cuomo has also proposed to eliminate the right of patients enrolled in traditional fee-for-service Medicaid to access medicines not listed on the state’s Medicaid preferred drug list when they are prescribed by the patient’s doctor as the only suitable course of treatment in a particular situation.  The Senate and Assembly have both rejected the Governor’s idea, as they have for many years now when proposed by various Governors.

Funding for “transitional immediate need Medicaid” services:  Currently, New York offers Medicaid coverage for critically needed personal care and urgent medical care while a Medicaid determination is pending (which can take up to 45 days) because doing so can avoid unnecessary hospitalization and/or institutionalization of patients.  Governor Cuomo has proposed to end such coverage.  The Senate did not address the matter in its one-house bill, while Assembly proposes to continue access through allowing a “presumptive eligibility” determination.

Funding for the Independent Consumer Advocacy Network (ICAN):  As New York proceeds to transform its entire Medicaid program into a “care coordination” approach across the board, it created ICAN within last year’s budget.  ICAN’s mission is to assist people on Medicaid needing long-term care and other special services with the transition from the old fee-for-service system.  This year, the Governor proposed a $5M allocation for the program, which the Assembly supported but the Senate did not address in its one-house bill.

Adopting a “Community First Choice” (CFC) option:  CFC is a federal Medicaid funding initiative that allows states to more widely provide long-term care to people in their homes and communities rather than solely in institutions, and states that enact a CFC program receive an additional federal Medicaid funding.  Governor Cuomo’s budget includes an exemption from the Nurse Practice Act for new “Advanced Home Health Aides”, thereby increasing the availability of personnel necessary to fully implement a CFC program, and enhancing federal approval of the state’s CFC proposal submitted in December 2013.  The Governor’s budget also includes authorization to reinvest savings resulting from a CFC approach (estimated to be approximately $300 million annually) into initiatives that will further the state’s Olmstead Plan” to de-institutionalize as much long-term care as possible.  The Assembly supports the Governor’s CFC proposals, while the Senate rejects them.

Capital funding for community-based entities:  Governor Cuomo has proposed $1.4B in new capital funding for hospitals, yet none for community-based entities.  As the state proceeds with its “Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment” (DSRIP) program under Medicaid and its broader “State Health Improvement Program” (SHIP), both of which emphasize and prioritize non-institutional, community-based care programs working in collaboration with hospitals, MMNY believes it is important that they too have access to capital funds.  The Assembly directs $10M for community health centers, while the Senate adds $500M more and directs that capital allocations be available to all providers, to be determined in consultation with the Legislature.

Looking Back at 2014

As we close out 2014, we look back with pride to all of work of this past year and the role we played in fostering community-labor collaboration in the struggle for health care justice in New York, and comprehensive, quality, affordable health care for all New Yorkers.

clapping hands

First, we want to thank all those who supported us financially in 2014 – your donations made it ALL possible!

The following groups and individuals joined our “2014 Health Care for All Team” as part of our Annual Dues Campaign in the spring:

go team

Alliance for a Greater New York
Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802, AFM
Children’s Defense Fund of New York
Citizen Action of New York
Committee of Interns and Residents, SEIU Healthcare
Communications Workers of America, Local 1180
Commission on the Public’s Health System in New York City
Community Health Care Association of New York State
Community Service Society of New York
DC 37 Retirees Association
District Council 37, AFSCME
Doctors’ Council, SEIU
Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
Gay Men’s Health Crisis
Goddard-Riverside Community Center
Greater NYC for Change
Healthcare Education Project (1199SEIU-GNYHA)
International Association of Stage and Theatrical Employees, Local 1
International Association of Stage and Theatrical Employees, Local 600
Long Island Coalition for a National Health Program
Make the Road New York
Medicare Rights Center
Municipal Hospital Employees, Local 420, DC 37 AFSCME
National Association of Social Workers, NYC Chapter
New York Immigration Coalition
New York State AFL-CIO
New York State Nurses Association
New York Statewide Senior Action Council
Open Door Family Medical Centers
Organization of Staff Analysts
Physicians for a National Health Program, New York Metro Chapter
Planned Parenthood of New York City
Professional Staff Congress, CUNY
Public Health Solutions
1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
United Auto Workers, Region 9A
United Federation of Teachers

Robert Ambaras
Harold Allen
Ellis Arnstein, MD
Richard Bergman
Carmelita Blake, PhD
Francine Brewer
Anne and Sid Emerman
Shaurain Farber
Pat Fry
Nadia Jakoubek
Robert Lerner, MD
Jose Matta
Cheryl Merzel, MD
Terry Mizrahi
Ethel Paley
Ralph Palladino
Martin Petroff, JD
Alex Pruchnicki, MD
Adele Rogers
Clara Reiss
Mark Scherzer
Robert Spencer
Lois Steinberg
Myron and Janet Sussin
Marc Tallent, MD

We also want to thank all those groups and individuals who supported our 2014 Annual Gala Benefit on November 17:

20th Anniversary Champagne Toast

ACS Cancer Action Network
Alliance for a Greater NY
Assemblymember Richard Gottfried
Berlin Rosen
Business and Labor Coalition of New York
Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York
Children’s Defense Fund
Citizen Action of New York
Commission on the Public’s Health System
Committee of Interns and Residents, SEIU Healthcare
Communications Workers of America, Local 1180
Community Health Care Association of New York
Community Healthcare Network
Community Service Society
District Council 37 Retirees Association
Doctors’ Council, SEIU Healthcare
Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
Gay Men’s Health Crisis
Greater NY Hospital Association
Greater NY Laborer-Employers Cooperative & Education Trust
GuildNet/Lighthouse Guild
Healthcare Education Project (GNYHA-1199SEIU)
Hudson Health Plan, Hudson Center for Health Equity
Institute for Puerto Rican and Hispanic Elderly
Left Labor Project
Local 802, American Federation of Musicians
Make the Road New York
Municipal Hospital Workers, Local 420, DC 37
National Association of Social Workers, NYC Chapter
New York City Americans for Democratic Action
New York City Central Labor Council
New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health
New York Immigration Coalition
New York Professional Nurses Union
New York State AFL-CIO
New York State Nurses Association
New York Therapeutic Riding Center
New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness
Open Door Family Medical Center
Organization of Staff Analysts
Physicians for a National Health Program, NY Metro Chapter
Planned Parenthood of New York City
Primary Care Development Corporation
Professional Staff Congress, CUNY
Raising Women’s Voices – New York
Sarah Lawrence College, Health Advocacy Program
SEIU Healthcare
Senator Liz Krueger
Systonic Systems
TWU Local 100
United Auto Workers, Region 9A
United Federation of Teachers
1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
United University Professionals

Robert Ambaras
Carmelita Blake
Anne Bove
Rachel Burd
Jim Collins
Moira Dolan
Barbara Edmonds
Alice and Jon Fisher
Shiela Geist
Marcia Hunte
Feygele Jacobs
William Jordan, MD
Pauline Kuyler, MD
Stanley Lave
Lou Levitt
Robert Lichterman
Jose Matta
Merle McEldowney
Terry Mizrahi
Susan Moscou and Dan O’Connell, MD
Steve Oliver
Ralph Palladino
Kate Pfordresher
Marcia Poston
Alec Pruchnicki, MD
Heather Roberson
Constancia Romilly
Margery Schab
Mark Scherzer
Margaret Segall
Sarah Sheffield
Jerry Shroder
Joel Shufro
Sid and Sandy Socolar
Diane Stein
Peter Steinglass, MD
Merry Tucker

We also want to thank the following funders for supporting our work in 2014:

  • ACA Implementation Fund (received via the Community Service Society)
  • New York State Health Foundation (received via the American Cancer Society)
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (received via the Community Service Society)

Here’s just a sampling of how we put everyone’s financial support to work this past year:

working together sign

January:  Metro joins with Health Care for All New York leaders to visit the Capitol Hill offices of New York Congressmembers to inform them about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for New Yorkers, and the need for continued funding for the state’s ACA-authorized consumer assistance program which helps people solve their health insurance problems.

February:  Metro speaks at Labor Press’ “Union Health Care Summit” which assesses the impacts of the Affordable Care Act on trade unions and needed improvements.

March:  Metro and our allies in Health Care for All New York partner with the Dept. of Financial Services to successfully urge the Legislature to enact a landmark law to expand consumer rights and protections when they incur “surprise medical bills”.

April:  Metro and our partners in the Get Covered New York project wind up a 6-month effort that located and referred approximately 4,000 uninsured New York City residents to enrollers for the new Affordable Care Act plans.

May:  Metro and our partners in the People’s Budget Coalition for Public Health launch the “Access Health NYC” campaign to urge city officials to fund grassroots community outreach and education about how the uninsured can enroll in coverage, use that coverage, and access needed services.

June:  Metro and our partners in New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage undertake a legislative advocacy campaign to take on insurers and restore consumer choice in pharmacy access.

Aug.:  Metro and our partners in No Bad Grand Bargain and the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans hold a Social Security birthday party outside the New York City Regional Office of the Social Security Administration (SSA), in conjunction with Local 3369 of the American Federation of Government Employees, calling attention to harmful cutbacks in staff and in-person services, and closures of 7 local SSA offices across NYC since 2011.

Sept.:  Metro and Health Care for All New York partner with the Healthcare Education Project to convene seven well-attended Regional Outreach and Enrollment Summits across the state, including in Queens, Manhattan, the Hudson Valley, and on Long Island.

Oct.:  Metro facilitates planning session on “Community Benefits” at the annual meeting of the National Physicians Alliance, held in Yonkers.

Nov.:  Metro producing radio and cable TV programming on Medicare Open Enrollment for 2015 featuring experts from the Medicare Rights Center, to help people understand their options and choices, including a lively listener call-in on WBAI-FM.

Dec.:  Metro and our allies launch the Campaign for New York Health, to promote state legislation for a truly universal health care program in our state, and turn out hundreds at five public hearings across the state, including New York City.


…and we look forward to continuing our work with everyone in 2015.  Thanks again!

Campaign for New York Health Prepares for Assembly Hearing in NYC on Universal Health Care

On Tuesday December 16, the New York State Assembly Health Committee is holding a hearing in New York on the “New York Health Act” (A.5389-A/S.2078-A) to create a fully-public, truly-universal health care program in New York.  The Act is sponsored in the Assembly by Health Committee chair Richard Gottfried, who represents the west side of Manhattan, and in the State Senate by Sen. Bill Perkins, who represents Harlem.  The hearing will start at 10 a.m. and be held at New York University’s Global Center for Spiritual and Academic Life, 238 Thompson St., 5th fl. Grand Hall, in Greenwich Village.  People can sign-up to testify at this hearing or submit written testimony here.  Oral testimony will be limited to 5 minutes, and people with longer statements are urged to summarize their main points.


The NYC hearing is part of a series of hearings being held by the Assembly Health Committee across the state.  Hearings have already been held in Syracuse on Dec. 4, in Rochester on Dec. 8, and in Buffalo on Dec. 10.  Future hearings after the one in New York City will be held on Long Island (Mineola) on Dec. 17, and in Albany on Jan. 13.

The Campaign for New York Health (CNYH), a multi-constituency coalition promoting the legislation, is advancing participation in these hearings, and holds press conferences in each city prior to the start of the hearing that feature the bill sponsors and other supportive public officials, doctors and nurses, labor leaders, patients with personal stories, health care activists, and local faith and community leaders, among others.  These press events have been garnering much local coverage in local and statewide media.  The press conference prior to the New York City hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the hearing location.

CNYH is also holding “meet-and-greet” events in each community so that local activists and interested citizens can hear directly from the bill sponsors and CNYH representatives, engage in discussion, and have their questions about the bill answered.  The New York City meet-and-greet event will be held on the evening prior to the hearing, Mon. Dec. 15, from 6-8 p.m. at 220 Fifth Avenue, 5th fl., in Manhattan.  The public is welcome to attend.  RSVPs are requested in order to make adequate preparations for space and light refreshments, and can be made here.

CNYH’s website is where interested groups and individuals can sign up to get involved.