Panel Returns to Albany to Trim Medicaid

A panel charged with trimming the state’s ever-growing Medicaid budget meets Thursday and Friday to finalize a series of proposals that could change the way millions of low-income New Yorkers receive health care.

The goal is not only to lop $2.8 billion off the $53 billion program — about 40 percent of the state’s budget — but also to reshape how Medicaid serves 4.8 million low-income New Yorkers.

Panel member Steven Berger said several of the 49 proposals on the list could save the state millions of dollars relatively easily. For instance, he'd like to see more low-cost generic drugs and less name-brand pharmaceuticals on the official prescription drug list, known as a formulary.

"We've got to change the formulary because there are a lot of drugs that aren’t on the formulary that should be," Berger said. "That was Pharma’s old pressure."

Other proposals include expanding a tax on hospitals by hundreds of millions of dollars, putting more people into managed care programs and curtailing visits by home health aides.

Berger is one of many people who also favors capping high jury payouts in malpractice lawsuits, which lead to high malpractice insurance.

"We've got to change the malpractice insurance law," he said. "Not only is it bad financially, it forces doctors to practice defensive medicine, which is expensive and bad medicine."

Berger previously led the state's hospital closure commission.

The other 23 members of the Medicaid panel include the heads of hospital and clinic groups, union leaders and elected officials.

An expanded tax on some hospitals is projected to net the state $750 million over two years. Hospital leaders said the tax, coupled with rate cuts, could lead to more closures.

Panel members have already ranked the proposals. They will discuss their votes over the next two days and vote on a final slate of recommendations on Tuesday.