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NY Daily News Op-Ed: A Hit to Safety-Net Health-Care Providers We Must Prevent

New York Daily News, December 14, 2020

By Richard N. Gottfried, Brad Hoylman, Gustavo Rivera and Linda B. Rosenthal

Many of New York’s health-care providers are in crisis. COVID-19 has increased the cost of providing care and cut their income because people are postponing care. This is on top of the fact that many health-care providers that rely on Medicaid have been on painful austerity budgets for years due to government cuts. Then, in April, Gov. Cuomo’s state budget slashed Medicaid even more.

As if that was not enough, one little-noticed action in the budget changes how Medicaid pays for prescription drugs. It will financially cripple our most vulnerable safety net providers and leave their patients without care.

Here’s the story. The vast majority of Medicaid recipients are required to get their coverage, including prescription drugs, from a Medicaid managed care plan. Each managed care plan does its own price negotiating with drug manufacturers. A small number get their Medicaid coverage directly from the state, without a managed care plan, and the state pays directly for their drugs, through its “preferred drug program.”

This year’s state budget “carves out” all prescription drugs from Medicaid managed care coverage and requires all Medicaid patients to get their prescription drugs directly through the state.

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In many ways, this is a good idea. The state will be negotiating drug prices for a much bigger group of patients than any one managed care plan. This will mean lower prices. And the preferred drug program gives patients and their doctors more choice of drugs than managed care plans do. For years, we’ve advocated getting Medicaid managed care plans out of the picture for drugs. (The NY Health Act, our single-payer bill, would get all insurance companies out of the whole picture for all of us, but that’s for another article.)

However, there is a serious problem in this plan. Community health centers, HIV providers, sexual health clinics, many rural hospitals and other safety net providers currently participate in a federal program called 340B, which allows them to purchase prescription drugs at a significantly reduced price. These providers rely on their 340B savings to “stretch” their Medicaid funding to pay for health care for the people they serve. The catch is, under federal law, this only works for drugs purchased under Medicaid managed care.

340B was created in 1992 by Congress “to stretch scarce…resources as far as possible, reaching more eligible patients and providing more comprehensive services.” It guarantees dramatically lower drug prices for the providers that are covered. In New York, these providers are all non-profit groups.

The money trail is complicated (like almost everything involving prescription drugs), but the bottom line is: If New York State shifts Medicaid drug coverage away from managed care, the way it was done in the budget, these non-profit safety-net providers will lose hundreds of millions of dollars they now use for patient care.

If this change goes ahead, the state and the federal government will pocket the savings. The benefit will no longer help the safety net providers the 340B program was created to help. How the Cuomo administration will use the money is anybody’s guess.

We believe it’s possible to change the new carve-out law to protect the 340B providers and HIV health plans. But it will take time for the Health Department, legislators, health-care providers and HIV plans to develop, evaluate and implement a successful carve-out that does not diminish access and quality for programs and the vulnerable people they serve.

That is why we’ve introduced a bill to have the carve-out go ahead for the bulk of Medicaid, but to delay it for three years specifically for 340B providers. The Legislature and the governor have to pass this bill before the full carve-out goes into effect on April 1, 2021. Otherwise, vulnerable health-care providers that serve vulnerable New Yorkers will suffer serious financial harm, and many will not survive.

Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, represents parts of the West Side and Midtown Manhattan. Rivera, chair of the state Senate Committee on Health, represents parts of the Northwest Bronx. Hoylman represents parts of Manhattan in the state Senate. Rosenthal, chair of the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, represents the Upper West Side and parts of Hell’s Kitchen.

Spectrum News – Health Chairs to Lawmakers: Don’t Alter Bail Law

The top lawmakers on the Assembly and state Senate health committees, in a letter Tuesday, urged against making changes to the state’s bail law, which ended cash bail requirements for misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses.

In the letter, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Sen. Gustavo Rivera warned that making changes could lead to more people in jails, creating an increase risk for people to contract the coronavirus.

Press release: Assembly Manhattan Delegation Releases Report Urging NYCHA Funding in State Budget

Today, the Manhattan Assembly delegation issued a report, NYCHA Crisis: Finding Tenant Solutions, that details the living conditions of several NYCHA developments across Manhattan, and urges New York State to commit substantial and consistent funding for NYCHA’s most urgent capital needs.

“Written prior to the COVID-19 State of Emergency, the pandemic further highlights that, for over 400,000 NYCHA tenants in substandard housing, the public housing crisis is a public health crisis,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, the dean and Chair of the Manhattan Assembly Delegation.  “New York State can act now with serious funding commitments and lead the way towards the restoration of NYCHA.”

NY Post: Cuomo panel recommends $400M in hospital cuts as coronavirus pandemic rages

It’s unclear whether the Legislature or even the governor, who must approve the changes as part of the state budget, have the stomach to cut spending to medical facilities grappling with an expected wave of COVID-19 patients and a potential health catastrophe, as well as rolling back Medicaid services to patients.

“It’s never a good time to cut health care, especially when the only rationale is to fit into an artificial limit. It’s even more wrong in the midst of a growing epidemic,” said Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan).

Legislative Gazette – Health Committee chairs: Now is the time to keep people out of jails

“Everyone is pointing out that jails and prisons are a hotbed of spreading contagion,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, chair of the Health Committee. “Our bail reform has [kept] more people out of that pot of bumbling contagion.“Coming in and out and infecting other inmates, infecting personnel, and when they come out, infecting their neighbors,” Gottfried said.

Gottfried and Senate Health Chair Gustavo Rivera sent a letter to every fellow lawmaker on Tuesday denouncing efforts to rollback bail reform during a health emergency.

Politico: Door-to-door campaigning gets much more daunting amid coronavirus

“This is not the best time to be sending people door-to-door,” he said. “It’s the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do. I don’t know the specific solution, but I know it’s something we have to address.”

In the two days between those comments, grumbling from a handful of candidates has turned into a more widespread uproar.“[M]y campaign is immediately suspending efforts to collect further petition signatures for ballot access,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney announced.

“I’m working to make it easier for candidates to get on the ballot in districts affected by COVID-19, and I’m suspending my own efforts to gather signatures for my candidacy for re-election,” tweeted Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan).

City & State: The fight to regulate pharmacy benefit managers

Democratic lawmakers in both houses of the state Legislature passed legislation last year that would regulate pharmacy benefit managers in New York for the first time. Independent pharmaciescheered. Insurers and manufacturers – who own some PBMs – not so much. Huge sums were at stake, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo ended up vetoing the bill last December. But the governor left the door open for lawmakers to send a new bill this year if it addressed five concerns he had in the original legislation. That could happen in the coming months, according to Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, who sponsored the original bill.

Daily News: Lawmakers and legal experts call Cuomo coronavirus bill a power grab

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the chairman of his chamber’s Health Committee, argued during a late-night floor debate on Monday that no past governor has ever asked for the powers Cuomo requested during any previous public health emergencies.

“The governor and health commissioner have, for decades, had extraordinarily broad executive powers,” he told the Daily News on Tuesday. “I’ve never heard a governor or health commissioner in any disaster or emergency say that there was something that needed to get done that couldn’t get done because of a lack of what this bill does.”

January-February Health Committee Update

The Assembly Health Committee favorably reported 31 bills at its January and February meetings.  The Committee reported bills to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers; reform the distribution of indigent care pool funds for hospitals serving low-income patients; create an emerging contaminants monitoring list in order to ensure that all water systems in New York are tested for potentially dangerous chemicals, lower lead levels in school water, and provide insurance coverage for medical marijuana.

Evening Observer: Assembly approves bill to aid blood drives

“This bill would create a program of grants to help community groups and schools run blood drives,” Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-New York City and legislation sponsor wrote in his legislative justification. “When community organizations or schools conduct blood drives, the blood bank generally pays for the cost of the blood collection itself. But the blood banks do not pay for promotional activities such as mailings to an organization’s members, or the cost of the space if this cost exists.”