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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
ALBANY, Oct. 17 -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was recently asked by a reporter at a Capitol press conference whether county governments (and, therefore, local property taxpayers) could be relieved of having to pay for Medicaid by having the state pick up the local share.
There are many rallying cries springing up around the state and the nation at the moment, but that question pinpointed the one that local leaders across our region and throughout New York have identified as priority No. 1 during the 2012 session of the State Legislature: a state takeover of local Medicaid costs.
The governor answered this way: “Do we have money to subsidize them (local governments)? No.” In very clear terms, he delivered an outright rejection of the idea. Ongoing state budget deficits prevent the thought from even being considered, the governor said.
So let me be equally clear in return: Governor Cuomo’s wrong on this one. A state takeover of counties’ Medicaid costs cannot be considered a subsidy – these costs are an unfunded state mandate.
It’s the first time that I’ve had any truly strong disagreement with the governor’s otherwise aggressive agenda of economic and fiscal reform. But that’s not what’s important here. In the end, what matters most is that we keep this year’s reform momentum moving full speed ahead. Which means, in my view, that the governor’s recent comments can’t be the end of the discussion over a possible Medicaid takeover.
Obviously I’m joined in this assessment by county leaders. The Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben county legislatures have already approved resolutions calling for a state takeover, for example. That’s not surprising. The cost of Medicaid represents the single largest state-mandated expense counties face – and beginning in 2012, they have to somehow deal with it under a new state-imposed cap on property tax levy increases. It’s unrealistic for the state to keep believing that local governments can find a way to handle escalating local Medicaid costs. It was reported late last week that we’re approaching the 5 million mark in New York – that is 5 million New Yorkers enrolled in Medicaid. According to the Wall Street Journal, the state’s Medicaid rolls grew by nearly 75% over the past decade.
New York can’t afford not to initiate a state takeover. It’s
the reason why I recently joined a bipartisan group of state legislators
co-sponsoring legislation (S.5889/A.8644) that would begin an eight-year
phase-in of a complete state takeover of local Medicaid costs and save
county taxpayers approximately $180 million next year. Governor Cuomo
persuasively built the case for enacting the property tax cap by promising
that it would be accompanied by meaningful mandate relief. The only way
to get serious about mandate relief is to get counties out from under
State Health Department officials reported on October 5th that the Medicaid
redesign reforms we initiated as part of this year’s state budget
have already yielded nearly $600 million in savings. Further, in testimony
before the Legislature’s fiscal committees earlier this year, the
former head of the state Office of Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) noted
that the office, in 2009, delivered upwards of $1 billion in savings.
There’s no reason to believe that this office, which the Legislature
created several years ago to combat the notorious abuse, fraud, and waste
that has long plagued Medicaid, won’t continue to generate at least
hundreds of millions of dollars in additional savings. Shouldn’t
state leaders consider reinvesting these savings into making the Medicaid
system less of
No, we can’t just dismiss the idea of a Medicaid takeover. Instead,
we need to find a way to get it done. Local property taxpayers remain
at risk under a mountain of unfunded state mandates, and the heaviest
unfunded mandate of all is Medicaid. We need to reinvent the system. The
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869