Paterson Signs Health Bill But Still Wrangles Over Budget

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Gov. David Paterson signed into law reforms that will make it easier for New Yorkers to make end of life decisions for their loved ones.

The governor says the new law gives close friends or family members the legal authority to make medical treatment decisions when a person is incapacitated, even if the patient has not left specific written instructions or designated a health care proxy.

“This is humane, this is ethical, this is the right legislation,” Paterson says.

The new rules, which are common in most other states, come after 17 years of wrangling in the state legislature.

Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried, who has long championed the legislation, says the new law will end needless anguish among family members about how to proceed with end of life treatment. He says the new law, which is backed by the State’s Right to Life Committee, also protects against euthanasia.

“While it is often seen as a bill about people who want to pull the plug, it’s also about people who want to fight to keep the plug in,” Gottfried say. “It’s about making sure that patients’ wishes and best interests are protected.”

Paterson says the legislation, which was passed nearly unanimously by both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, is an example of how lawmakers can put aside differences and work together when necessary. And he says he hopes that spirit can continue for the next big challenge facing legislators: agreeing on a state budget that closes an over $9 billion deficit.

Paterson met privately with legislative leaders at the governor’s mansion Tuesday morning, but says little was accomplished. The governor says he’s already done his part, submitting his plan and ideas for cuts and new taxes on soda and cigarettes.

“I have paid for every dime of deficit in my plan,” Paterson says.

Later, the governor admitted that at this stage he can’t do much more than “prodding” lawmakers to act.

Paterson also threw some cold water on parts of the state bail out plan offered by his Lieutenant Gov., Richard Ravitch. Ravitch suggests changing the start of the fiscal year from April 1 to July 1. Paterson says that plan is not feasible because governors would still have to submit their budget plans in late January under the state’s constitution, too early to make accurate financial predictions.

“The fiscal situation the last four or five years has been markedly different in July than it was in January,” Paterson says.

Changing the constitution requires the approval of two consecutively elected state legislatures, and then a public vote, meaning the change could not occur until 2012.

Overall, Paterson says the Ravitch plan is generating a “mixed reaction” from the legislature, but he says that no one has rejected the proposal outright.