Our View: Protect programs that provide access to care

midwife and patient

By Nora OBrien-Suric, Ph.D.

While spring is officially here, it’s looking like sunny skies may not be in the forecast for New York state’s budget.

As lawmakers grapple with projected multi-billion dollar budget deficits, we know that there are tough choices that will have to be made, but we need to stay vigilant to make sure the health care needs of our fellow residents don’t fall victim to fiscal fights.

How did we get here?

Though we got some good news when Congress fixed the funding cliff for Federally Qualified Health Centers and provided a full decade of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, thanks to other changes in national health care and tax policies New York is facing billions of dollars in federal funding cuts for Medicaid and health care programs for lower-income residents.

President Donald Trump’s decision to cut off cost-sharing reduction payments means New York lost about $1 billion in funding for its Essential Plan, a program that provides affordable health insurance for more than 725,000 people who earn less than twice the federal poverty level but do not qualify for Medicaid.

When nearly 7 million people in our state depend on Medicaid and the Essential Plan, we want to make sure that their health care does not end up on the chopping block.

The state has committed to protecting the Essential Plan, so to mitigate the impact of these cuts, the governor proposed creating a Health Care Shortfall Fund.

The largest source of revenue for the Shortfall Fund would come from changing the rules for when a not-for-profit insurance company converts to a for-profit company. Other measures include a surcharge on for-profit health insurers, a new tax on vapor products used in e-cigarettes and a surcharge on prescription pain medications.

The New York State Senate and Assembly recently released their one-house budgets laying out their positions. The Assembly’s version keeps the fund; the Senate’s version keeps the fund intact, but nixes its funding streams.

Now the negotiating begins. But amidst the rallies and the countless television ads, we can’t lose sight of what’s important – the health care needs of our most vulnerable residents.

In these uncertain times, we must resist any threats to programs that provide access to care, and instead work to strengthen and improve their reach so that all New Yorkers have access to affordable, quality care.