This month marks the three-year anniversary of the first confirmed case of COVID in New York State. Today, even as a sense of normalcy returns to our daily lives, our health care system remains in a state of deep crisis. Safety net hospitals are about to close, emergency rooms are understaffed and overcrowded, nursing home residents face endlessly long wait times for bedside care and care services home are increasingly difficult to obtain. Yet Governor Hochul’s budget proposal reads as if the biggest health crisis in generations has never occurred and includes significant cuts to services that would affect our state’s most vulnerable: seniors, people with disabilities, and families with low income.
New York’s health care workforce is burned out and exhausted, and caregivers are understaffed than ever. The rigors of working on the front lines of the pandemic have had a devastating impact on the mental and physical well-being of those providing care, and far too many have left the industry altogether.
Our state’s leaders must take urgent action to rebuild and reinvest in health care. That’s why tomorrow, some 15,000 health care workers, representing nearly every title, type of institution, and community in New York, will march and demonstrate on Capitol Hill in Albany. Our demand: Invest an additional $2.5 billion in health care in the budget and close the Medicaid coverage gap. With a budget surplus of $8.7 billion, there’s simply no reason why this shouldn’t be done, especially given the life and death consequences.
It’s been decades since New York’s healthcare workers mobilized in such numbers, and it’s because for us and the people we care for, the urgency of the moment couldn’t be greater. The Governor and our legislative leadership in Albany must take action now to address the health care funding gap and ensure access to care for those who need it. Unfortunately, the Governor’s budget does the opposite, completely failing to recognize the severity of this crisis.
Medicaid is a lifeline for millions of New Yorkers. Provides health coverage for most seniors who need home and nursing home health care. It covers approximately 40% of children and 50% of people with disabilities in New York. Nearly half of all pregnant women in our state rely on Medicaid to deliver their babies.
The daily news flash
Catch up on the top five stories of the day every weekday afternoon.
Medicaid allows our most vulnerable communities to access essential health services, but is sadly underfunded. In fact, New York faces one of the largest reimbursement rate gaps in the nation: For every dollar of care a Medicaid enrollee receives, the health care provider is only reimbursed 61 cents. This places a tremendous cost burden on our healthcare system, especially for safety-net hospitals that serve low-income communities that do not specialize in the kinds of lucrative procedures and surgeries that more affluent hospitals do.
The Governor’s budget falls significantly short in several respects.
A proposed 5% increase in Medicaid fees is completely undermined by changes to a drug pricing program called 340b, a major source of support for safety net providers. The budget includes $700 million in cuts to safety net institutions at a time when their resources are already stretched too thin.
Homecare workers, who won a huge victory last year by raising their minimum wage to $3 an hour above the state minimum wage, would see this achievement undone and fall back to the minimum wage level. Consumer-directed personal caregivers would have their wages reduced by $4.09 per hour, or about 20%, in a devastating blow to their livelihoods and the ability of consumers to hire the caregivers they need.
New Yorkers cannot tolerate a lean health care budget that continues to widen the gap between Medicaid funding, which did not see a single increase between 2008 and 2021, and the actual cost of care. To address the health care crisis and put our system on the road to recovery, we must increase Medicaid rates by 10% and reject severe cuts in low-paying caregiver jobs. We must secure the services and care that millions of vulnerable New Yorkers depend on. Single-house budget proposals by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins make these commitments, and they must be met in the final budget.
Not so long ago, New Yorkers banged on pots and pans every night to honor and celebrate the heroism of the frontline healthcare workers who were risking their lives during the worst of the pandemic. These same healthcare workers continue to face immense challenges in providing the kind of care their patients deserve, and on Tuesday, they’ll be the ones making the noise.
Gresham is president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the nation’s largest health care union.