Gotham Gazette

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Legislators in Healthcare: State Budget Can’t Jeopardize Covid Recovery and Public Health

adv policy budget

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

As health-care professionals we know COVID-19 is unprecedented, but as legislators we know budget cuts are not. Despite the immeasurable impacts of COVID-19, Governor Cuomo’s Fiscal Year 2022 Executive Budget proposes cuts to critical health-care funding for New York State. Our experience in health care makes us uniquely attuned to the disproportionate impact that this budget would have on low-income and working class New Yorkers. As we plan a recovery for COVID-19, we cannot turn our backs on the very workers that made sure our state functioned during a global pandemic. As we come to a final agreement on an adopted budget for the new fiscal year, New Yorkers need an equitable budget that prioritizes public health and implements proactive practices to respond to future health emergencies.

Since the first reported case of COVID-19 in New York, nearly 40,000 New Yorkers have died after contracting the virus. Rather than continuing to do business as usual, we must transform our approach to public health to prioritize culturally-competent and population-specific care. New Yorkers are unique; a one-size-fits all approach to health care will no longer suffice. Over the past year, it has become exceedingly clear that in the face of a global pandemic, underlying health inequities are life-threatening for certain populations.

For decades, Article 6 programs have been providing a range of life-saving, hyper-local, community-centered programs to specific populations, promoting public health, and addressing concurrent health epidemics, including HIV and the opioid crisis. While on the front lines, we witnessed the immense impact of Article 6 funded programs on individuals that would otherwise go without essential care. It is unfathomable that this funding be jeopardized, especially during a global pandemic.

It is in this spirit that we advocate for the adopted budget to invest in a just recovery for New York and the continued health of New Yorkers by increasing Article 6 reimbursement rates in five boroughs of New York City to 36%, the same rate as other New York State counties. At the very minimum, reimbursement must continue at 20%; anything less would disproportionately affect communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 and are already struggling to regain some semblance of their overall wellbeing. 

With unemployment rates exceptionally high, the rising cost of health care continues to be a burden for New Yorkers. Over the last year we have witnessed an increase in demand for publicly-funded health-care plans and subsidized care, likely due to rising unemployment, loss of income, and termination of employer-funded health insurance. During a time when New Yorkers are relying most on the government to deliver, it would be irresponsible to cut funding to Medicaid, indigent care, and safety net hospitals throughout the state, including New York City Health + Hospitals (H+H). H+H is the largest public safety net hospital in the nation, and for many New Yorkers, primarily undocumented and uninsured individuals, the only option for affordable and accessible health care. The decision to reduce state funding to H+H by nearly $500 million over two years, and reduce funding to safety net providers, ignores the reality of our current public health crisis and sends the message that elderly, low-income, undocumented, or otherwise uninsured individuals do not deserve access to quality health care.

To truly recover from this pandemic, we must ensure that every New Yorker has access to primary care and life-saving services. The New York State Medicaid program has a long history of providing high-quality, comprehensive health-care coverage and access to services for low-income immigrant communities and people with disabilities. To continue this tradition, we must protect H+H and other safety net hospitals by eliminating the governor’s proposed reductions to Medicaid, Managed Care, and Long Term Care services and Indigent Care pools in the Executive Budget.

As we approach a final agreement on a new budget, these must be priorities.

Centering the needs of the most vulnerable is essential in health care. As legislators, we bear a similar responsibility: to protect our constituents in the face of threats to their wellbeing. At this moment, caring for New Yorkers means securing a budget without cuts to health care or public health programs, responding to the needs of New Yorkers and forging a path to a healthier future.

Assembly Members Phara Souffrant Forrest, Karines Reyes, and John T. McDonald III represent parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the Capital Region. On Twitter @phara4assembly, @KarinesReyes87, & @johnmcdonald108.

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