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The Empire

New York likely to miss another Federal health exchange deadline

By Karen DeWitt, WXXI Capitol Bureau Chief

Health advocacy groups say it’s likely that New York State will miss another deadline to implement the new Federal health care law. Republicans in the State Senate, who control the chamber, are expressing new reservations about the health care exchanges, based on policy differences, not political opposition.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, says Senators are taking a “cautious, wait-and-see approach”, and have concerns that the federal program could result in New Yorkers paying $3.75 billion dollars more in taxes, thanks to new higher Medicare taxes for upper-income earners.

Under the federal health care law approved by President Obama and Congress, states must set up their own health care exchanges, to be ready when all Americans are required to buy health insurance plans beginning in 2014.

Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on a framework for the health exchanges at the end of the legislative session, in June, but it fell part in the final days when some conservative State Senators said they did not want to vote to advance what they call “Obamacare”. It was expected that the Senate would return in the fall to finally pass the legislation, but there are signs now that that may not happen.

Tracey Brooks with Planned Parenthood’s lobbying arm Family Planning Advocates says the opposition from Senators is based solely on politics, and is “a sad state of affairs”.

“This is just silliness,” said Brooks, who added that there are enough votes among Republicans and Democrats in the Senate for the agreed upon bill to pass.

“It’s time for the Senate to come back into session and pass the legislation,” she said.

Brooks says the exchanges will help the state’s uninsured, as well as small businesses who currently can’t afford to provide health insurance. She says if the legislature does not act by September 30th, it won’t qualify for a second round of federal funding to help pay for the exchanges and startup costs.

“That federal money is not a bottomless pit,” Brooks said. “It’s first come, first served”.

Blair Horner, with the American Cancer Society, says there are other concerns to keep in mind. He says if New York lawmakers do not act, the federal government will set up the health exchange for the state anyway, and the legislature will have less control over how the exchanges are structured.

“The more you kick the can down the road, the greater the likelihood that you are going to run into problems,” said Horner.

But, he noted, it’s important to get it right. “Unlike a lot of other things that happen around here, if you do this badly, real people won’t get health insurance,” he said.