State Panel Approves Medicaid Cuts, Forwards to Cuomo

A state commission appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to trim Medicaid costs approved a package on Thursday that officials said will save billions of dollars.

Many of the details need to be fleshed out but the panel's overwhelming approval means Cuomo can include them in the state budget. The measure now goes to the Legislature.

Patients with high needs and high costs will be channeled into managed care programs within three years. Doctors, dentists, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other providers will get a two percent, across-the-board rate cut. Medical malpractice claims will be capped. And many home health services for the elderly will be sharply curtailed.

The end-of-the-day vote, at a commission meeting in Albany, came as a surprise. There was to be a second day of deliberation, a few days off for staff members to make changes and panel members to mull over the package, and then another parlay next Tuesday for the vote.

Cuomo initially charged a group with trimming more than $2.8 billion dollars out of the Medicaid budget. But Budget Director Robert Megna, at the beginning of the hearing, said revised estimates of revenues and costs were a half-billion dollars better than expected, meaning the commission’s trims only needed to add up to about $2.3 billion.

Approval was overwhelming – but the two panelists present who are state legislators, Republican Kemp Hannon and Democratic Richard Gottfried, both abstained. They and other legislators can still debate, alter, approve and reject the proposals during the budget process.

Gottfried voiced concerns throughout the day about the effect of the cuts on patients and vulnerable populations, and he was skeptical that many proposals would save money or make the system more efficient. Gottfried was critical of the decision to call a vote, as was Lara Kassel, the coordinator of Medicaid Matters New York and the lone patient representative on the panel.

State Senator Tom Duane, another Manhattan Democrat on the panel, was absent from Albany for the discussion and vote. So were Dennis Rivera, one of the top leaders of the Service Employees International Union, Linda Gibbs, New York City Deputy Mayor, and Jeffrey Sachs, a close ally of Cuomo.