Top Tags

Tag medicaid

January Community Update

’Twas the Night Before Christmas… when Extell Sued a Non-Profit over its Opposition to Supertall UWS Skyscraper

            I’ve been working with a coalition of New Yorkers, including Community Board 7, LandmarkWest!, Upper West Side block associations, and the City Club, to fight the wave of “supertall” buildings that threaten the Upper West Side, including the 775-foot-tall luxury high-rise that the Extell Corporation is seeking to build at 50 West 66th Street.  I’m also fighting to eliminate the “mechanical void” loophole in certain R9 and R10 zoning districts (mostly found in Manhattan), which allows developers to insert massive empty spaces into their buildings in order skirt zoning laws and boost their overall height.  Developers do this so they can get higher prices for upper-floor apartments.  Extell wants to use the mechanical void loophole at 50 W. 66th Street to add 160 feet to the building’s height.  It’s an outrageous practice, and it has to stop!

            I’m one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Extell filed in April by the City Club of New York.  On Christmas Eve, Extell’s lawyers filed a countersuit against the City Club, seeking financial damages.

New Laws Take Effect in 2020

            Several new laws – on birth certificates, cash bail, “pre-registering” to vote, farmworkers’ rights, and boating safety, among others – are taking effect beginning in 2020. 

            And an increase in the minimum wage began on December 31, with hourly minimums rising

to $15 an hour in New York City, $13 on Long Island and in Westchester County, and $11.80 in the rest of the state.

            I was proud to have been an Assembly cosponsor of a bill (sponsored by Assembly Member David Weprin and Senator Andrew Lanza) that allows persons who were adopted unrestricted access to their birth certificates once they turn eighteen.  Previously, adoptees could only get access by petitioning a court, and even then only with the consent of both biological parents.  The law, which was strongly supported by many adoptees seeking potentially life-saving information on their family medical history, takes effect on January 15.

DEFENDING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS: On Dec. 10, I joined advocates and elected officials to defend pre-sentencing reforms like eliminating the cash bail requirement for most non-violent crimes.

            Important changes are also taking place affecting cash bail and streamlining pre-trial procedure.  Beginning on January 1, persons charged with most misdemeanors and Class E felonies will no longer be required to post cash bail or bond to be released from jail

while awaiting trial, which will help end the criminalization of poverty that imprisons those not yet convicted simply because they can’t afford bail. 

            Several reforms to speed up trials and streamline the discovery process also took effect on January 1.

            Also taking effect on January 1 was a new law allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to “pre-register” to vote by completing a voter registration form that will make them automatically eligible to vote once they turn 18, making New York the 14th state to allowing pre-registration for persons beginning at age 16.

            Farmworkers have more rights under Farm Labor Fair Practices Act that took effect on January 1, aligning them with those already guaranteed other workers in New York: an eight-hour workday, with one mandatory rest day each week for farmworkers, as well as overtime pay set at time and a half.  The law makes it illegal for an employer to “lock out” farm workers over pay disputes or for seeking to unionize.

            Starting January 1, New Yorkers born in 1993 or later will now be required to

take a safety course before operating a motorboat or jet ski.  “Brianna’s Law” – named after Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old killed in a boat crash off Long Island in 2005 – will require every motor boat or jet ski operator to take a course and obtain a boating safety license before operating a motorized vessel on New York waterways, by expanding the age group every year until all motorboat or jet ski operators are included in 2025.

Governor Pledges to Remove Tow Pound from Pier 76

            On Sunday, January 5, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the State would ensure that the NYPD tow pound vacate Pier 76 in the Hudson River by the end of this year.  In 1998, the State Hudson River Park Act (which I sponsored in the Assembly) required

the City to use its “best efforts” to vacate the Pier so it would become part of the Park.  It’s long overdue.

PIER 76: Soon to be part of Hudson River Park (photo credit: Office of Governor Cuomo)

            The ownership of the nearly 250,000 square-foot Pier 76, located near West 38th Street across 12th Avenue from the High Line, the Javits Center, and Hudson Yards, will then be transferred to the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) and the Pier will become part of the Park.  HRPT will develop a plan for Pier 76 and for Pier 40, located near West Houston Street.  Planning for Pier 40 has also been in limbo for years.  The plan is to balance maximizing open space and recognizing the financial needs of the Hudson River Park on both piers.  The community is to be involved in developing the plan. 

            I’m joining Manhattan Community Board 4 and other elected officials representing the Hudson River waterfront in enthusiastically supporting the Governor’s initiatives for the Park.

Penn Station Expansion

            On Monday, January 6, Governor Cuomo announced that the State plans to accelerate improvements to Penn Station including easier access to the street and to trains and adding 8 new tracks under the block south the Station (30th to 31st Streets, Seventh to Eighth Avenues).   This will increase Penn Station’s train capacity by 40 percent.  This will help assure Penn Station’s vital role as the busiest transit hub in the Western Hemisphere long into the future.

            Governor Cuomo also announced that the new Moynihan Station being developed in the old Post Office building will open in December 2020.

Five Tin Pan Alley Buildings Are Designated Landmarks

            In a big win for the local community and for preservationists, on December 10 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate five buildings in New York City’s fabled Tin Pan Alley as New York City landmarks. We had been fighting for years to get Tin Pan Alley, the block of West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, designated. It became famous in the late 1800s for its association with American popular music.  Dozens of music publishers and songwriters, including Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter worked out of offices in a row of Italianate townhouses on 28th Street, writing classic songs like “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

            The most recent testimony I wrote in 2019 and submitted to the LPC along with

New York City Council Speaker Corey John-

son urging it to designate five buildings in Tin Pan Alley as landmarks: 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55 West 28th Street.  The LPC’s action in December is the culmination of a long and hard-fought battle to preserve this vital piece of New York’s, and America’s, history.  

Public Finance Commission Issues Recommendations

            New York badly needs to combat the impact that big-money interests exert on State government – and I’ve been fighting to change the system.  It’s not a new cause for me – I wrote New York’s first bill on public campaign financing. 

            To help address mega-donors’ out-sized influence on New York’s government, the Governor and legislative leaders agreed that New

York State needed to create and implement a small-donor matching system for elections for State offices.  By matching small donations with public funding,  voices of all New Yorkers are strengthened instead of being overwhelmed by well-heeled special interests.

            Unfortunately, the Legislature and the Governor did not come to agreement on a campaign finance reform program before the end of the legislative session in June.  Instead, we created a “Public Financing Commission” charged with approving a campaign finance reform package by December, with Governor Cuomo promising that it would establish a campaign finance system that would serve as a “model for the nation.”  The recommendations it issued at the end of November will become law unless the Legislature amends or repeals them.

            The commission process was highly questionable, with its members apparently getting side-tracked by questions like whether to bar “fusion voting,” which allows different political parties in New York to endorse the same candidate; and whether to raise increase how many votes a “third party” would need to receive in order to be legally recognized with an official ballot line.

            Though the Commission did not act to eliminate fusion voting outright, as has been feared, it did move to increase the threshold for parties to obtain a position on the ballot, which puts their long-term survival in jeopardy.  Up until now, “third” parties like the Working Families Party and Conservative Party had to receive 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election to maintain a ballot line and thus field candidates in a range of elections across the state on that ballot line over the course of the next four years. Under the Commission’s rules, instead of qualifying in every four-year gubernatorial election, parties will have to receive 2% of all votes cast or 130,000 votes, whichever is higher, for either governor or president, meaning that parties would have to requalify every two years with a significantly higher number of votes than are currently required of them every four years.  (No other state in the country that allows fusion voting requires “third” parties to qualify during presidential election years.) 

            The question of party qualification should have never been a part of this commission. Third parties are an essential part of the electoral system in New York, shining light on important issues that otherwise may not get the attention they deserve.  The proposed thresholds for par-ty qualification are unacceptable.  We should be making it easier for third parties to make it on the ballot, not harder.

            That’s why I have introduced legislation to undo the recommendations of the Public Campaign Finance Commission relating to “third” parties.  My bill would restore the provisions of the Election Law relating to third parties.

            I will be working with other legislators to fix the problems created by the Commission’s set of recommendations, ensure the viability of smaller political parties, and make the proposed matching campaign finance system for New York State even stronger.

Looming State Budget Shortfall Threatens Medicaid Funding

            New York’s budget gap for the coming year stands at an estimated $6.1 billion, with much of that shortfall attributed to the State’s Medicaid program.  In order to maintain a “global spending cap” imposed by Governor Cuomo on Medicaid spending, his administration shifted more than $1 billion in Medicaid payments into the next (2020) fiscal year.

            Governor Cuomo’s administration ascribes the Medicaid deficit to several factors, including the effect of an increase in New York’s minimum wage on health care providers, a phase-

out of some federal funding, an aging population resulting in greater demand for long-term care, and the rising cost of that long-term care.

            We can’t cut Medicaid spending to the bone in order to comply with an artificially imposed spending cap without jeopardizing the health of millions of New York families who depend on this vital program.  As Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I’ll be working to protect Medicaid patients by providing it with additional revenue on high-income earners.

FIGHTING TO PRESERVE NEW YORK’S HISTORY: Last month, I joined members of the 29th Street Association and other elected officials to rally support for designating the Demarest Building on Fifth Avenue as a New York City landmark.

Fighting to Preserve a Historic Fifth Avenue Building

     On December 18, I spoke at a rally to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to grant landmark designation to the Demarest Building at 339 Fifth Avenue. An historic Beaux-Arts, iron-framed structure with four-story-high arched windows located on 33rd Street across from the Empire State Building, the Demarest was built in 1890 and originally housed a horse carriage showroom as well as the first electrically operated elevator in the world.  It was designed by the architectural firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell, whose founder James Renwick also created the plans for St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, among many other famous buildings.  Unfortunately, the Demarest is facing demolition because its owner, Pi Capital Partners, has filed an application to construct a new building.

      I have previously joined with community members and electing officials in unsuccessfully urging the preservation of the Demarest and other historic buildings in the area as part of a proposed expansion of the Madison Square North Historic District.  Now, our effort to save the Demarest is assuming new urgency in light of the imminent threat to its survival.

Assembly Task Force on Opiate Addiction

            Across our state, New Yorkers have been struggling to overcome an epidemic of opioid abuse.  To help address the crisis, the NYS Assembly Majority has formed a “Task Force on Examining Socio-Economic Responses to People with Substance Use Disorders.”  I was appointed to serve on the Task Force by Speaker Carl Heastie.

            Opioid addiction does not discriminate, impacting New Yorkers of all ages, races, and genders across the state.  This Task Force will help guide the state’ response with the insight of stakeholders and experts in the field, as we work to break down barriers preventing access to care and services.

         The Task Force will convene hearings to receive recommendations on how to address the opioid epidemic, as well as learn about the impacts of substance use disorders on those that suffer from the disorder, on their support systems, and on their communities.         

The formation of the Task Force is not the first step that the Assembly has taken in 2019 to address the crisis; earlier this year, the Assembly and the State Senate allocated $1 million for NYS substance abuse and rehabilitation service.

December Community Update

New Laws Take Effect in 2020

           Several new laws – on birth certificates, cash bail, “pre-registering” to vote, farmworkers’ rights, and boating safety, among others – are taking effect beginning in 2020. 

            And an increase in the minimum wage began on December 31, with hourly minimums rising to $15 an hour in New York City, $13 on Long Island and in Westchester County, and $11.80 in the rest of the state.

            I was proud to have been an Assembly cosponsor of a bill (sponsored by Assembly Member David Weprin and Senator Andrew Lanza) that allows persons who were adopted unrestricted access to their birth certificates once they turn eighteen.  Previously, adoptees could only get access by petitioning a court, and even then only with the consent of both biological parents.  The law, which was strongly supported by many adoptees seeking potentially life-saving information on their family medical history, takes effect on January 15.

DEFENDING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS: On Dec. 10, I joined advocates and elected officials to defend pre-sentencing reforms like eliminating the cash bail requirement for most non-violent crimes.

DEFENDING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS: On Dec. 10, I joined advocates and elected officials to defend pre-sentencing reforms like eliminating the cash bail requirement for most non-violent crimes.

            Important changes are also taking place affecting cash bail and streamlining pre-trial procedure.  Beginning on January 1, persons charged with most misdemeanors and Class E felonies will no longer be released from jail while awaiting trial, which will help end the criminalization of poverty that imprisons those not yet convicted simply because they can’t afford bail. 

            Several reforms to speed up trials and streamline the discovery process also took effect on January 1.

            Also taking effect on January 1 was a new law allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to “pre-register” to vote by completing a voter registration form that will make them automatically eligible to vote once they turn 18, making New York the 14th state to allowing pre-registration for persons beginning at age 16.

            Farmworkers have more rights under Farm Labor Fair Practices Act that took effect on January 1, aligning them with those already guaranteed other workers in New York: an eight-hour workday, with one mandatory rest day each week for farmworkers, as well as overtime pay set at time and a half.  The law makes it illegal for an employer to “lock out” farm workers over pay disputes or for seeking to unionize.

            Starting January 1, New Yorkers born in 1993 or later will now be required to take a safety course before operating a motorboat or jet ski.  “Brianna’s Law” – named after Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old killed in a boat crash off Long Island in 2005 – will require every motor boat or jet ski operator to take a course and obtain a boating safety license before operating a motorized vessel on New York waterways, by expanding the age group every year until all motorboat or jet ski operators are included in 2025.

Five Tin Pan Alley Buildings Are Designated Landmarks

            In a big win for the local community and for preservationists, on December 10 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate five buildings in New York City’s fabled Tin Pan Alley as New York City landmarks. We had been fighting for years to get Tin Pan Alley, the block of West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, designated. It became famous

in the late 1800s for its association with American popular music.  Dozens of music publishers and songwriters, including Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter worked out of offices in a row of Italianate townhouses on 28th Street, writing classic songs like “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

            The most recent testimony I wrote in 2019 and submitted to the LPC along with New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson urging it to designate five buildings in Tin Pan Alley as landmarks: 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55 West 28th Street.  The LPC’s action in December is the culmination of a long and hard-fought battle to preserve this vital piece of New York’s, and America’s, history.  

Public Finance Commission Issues Recommendations

            New York badly needs to combat the impact that big-money interests exert on State government – and I’ve been fighting to change the system.  It’s not a new cause for

me – I wrote New York’s first bill on public campaign financing. 

            To help address mega-donors’ out-sized influence on New York’s government, the Governor and legislative leaders agreed that New York State needed to create and implement a small-donor matching system for elections for State offices.  By matching small donations with public funding,  voices of all New Yorkers are strengthened instead of being overwhelmed by well-heeled special interests.

            Unfortunately, the Legislature and the Governor did not come to agreement on a campaign finance reform program before the end of the legislative session in June.  Instead, we created a “Public Financing Commission” charged with approving a campaign finance reform package by December, with Governor Cuomo promising that it would establish a campaign finance system that would serve as a “model for the nation.”  The recommendations it issued at the end of November will become law unless the Legislature amends or repeals them.

            The commission process was highly questionable, with its members apparently getting side-tracked by questions like whether to bar “fusion voting,” which allows different political parties in New York to endorse the same candidate; and whether to raise increase how many votes a “third party” would need to receive in order to be legally recognized with an official ballot line.

            Though the Commission did not act to eliminate fusion voting outright, as has been feared, it did move to increase the threshold for parties to obtain a position on the ballot, which puts their long-term survival in jeopardy.  Up until now, “third” parties like the Working Families Party and Conservative Party had to receive 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election to maintain a ballot line and thus field candidates in a range of elections across the state on that ballot line over the course of the next four years. Under the Commission’s rules, instead of qualifying in every four-year gubernatorial election, parties will have to receive 2% of all votes cast or 130,000 votes, whichever is higher, for either governor or president, meaning that parties would have to requalify every two years with a significantly higher number of votes than are currently required of them every four years.  (No other state in the country that allows fusion voting requires “third” parties to qualify during presidential election years.) 

            The question of party qualification should have never been a part of this commission. Third parties are an essential part of the electoral system in New York, shining light on important issues that otherwise may not get the attention they deserve.  The proposed thresholds for party qualification are unacceptable.  We should be making it easier for third parties to make it on the ballot, not harder.

            That’s why I have introduced legislation to undo the recommendations of the Public Campaign Finance Commission relating to “third” parties.  My bill would restore the provisions of the Election Law relating to third parties.

            I will be working with other legislators to fix the problems created by the Commis-

sion’s set of recommendations, ensure the

viability of smaller political parties, and make the proposed matching campaign finance system for New York State even stronger.

Looming State Budget Shortfall Threatens Medicaid Funding

            New York’s budget gap for the coming year stands at an estimated $6.1 billion, with much of that shortfall attributed to the State’s Medicaid program.  In order to maintain a “global spending cap” imposed by Governor Cuomo on Medicaid spending, his administration shifted more than $1 billion in Medicaid payments into the next (2020) fiscal year.

            Governor Cuomo’s administration ascribes the Medicaid deficit to several factors, including the effect of an increase in New York’s minimum wage on health care providers, a phase-out of some federal funding, an aging population resulting in greater demand for long-term care, and the rising cost of that long-term care.

            We can’t cut Medicaid spending to the bone in order to comply with an artificially imposed spending cap without jeopardizing the health of millions of New York families who depend on this vital program.  As Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I’ll be working to protect Medicaid patients by providing it with additional revenue on high-income earners.

Assembly Task Force on Opiate Addiction

            Across our state, New Yorkers have been struggling to overcome an epidemic of opioid abuse.  To help address the crisis, the NYS Assembly Majority has formed a “Task Force on Examining Socio-Economic Responses to People with Substance Use Disorders.”  I was appointed to serve on the Task Force by Speaker Carl Heastie.

            Opioid addiction does not discriminate, impacting New Yorkers of all ages, races, and genders across the state.  This Task Force will help guide the state’ response with the insight of stakeholders and experts in the field, as we work to break down barriers preventing access to care and services.

          The Task Force will convene hearings to receive recommendations on how to address the opioid epidemic, as well as learn about the impacts of substance use disorders on those that suffer from the disorder,

on their support systems, and on their communities.  

            The formation of the Task Force is not the first step that the Assembly has taken in 2019 to address the crisis; earlier this year, the Assembly and the State Senate allocated $1 million for NYS substance abuse and rehabilitation service.

Tues., Jan. 7: Workshop on “Cultivate Hell’s Kitchen”

       Do you live, work or play in Hell’s Kitchen?  Have ideas about what the future of this neighborhood should look like?  The “Cultivate HK” Town Hall series, sponsored by the Clinton Housing Development Company (CHDC), is designed to mobilize neighbors and advance a greener, more interconnected Hell’s Kitchen.    

            Join your neighbors at the second “Cultivate HK Town Hall” on Tuesday, January 7 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at 545 West 52nd Street (between Tenth & Eleventh Avenues) on the first floor.🎉

            This event is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be provided.

            For more information, please email Ansley at apentz@clintonhousing.org.  You can RSVP online at http://bit.ly/TownHallJan7

Mulchfest! Through Sat., Jan. 11, Recycle Christmas Trees

            From now through Saturday, January 11, you can recycle your Christmas tree or wreath, courtesy of the New York City Parks and Sanitation Departments. 

            Just bring your tree to a Mulchfest location, and your tree will be turned into wood chips that will be used to nourish trees and make New York City even greener.  More than 28,000 trees were recycled last year.

Help the City top that number in 2020!

            In our Assembly district, drop-off sites are Central Park West and West 65th Street and on East 14th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South.  Until Jan. 11, you can bring your tree to any Mulchfest location. Find the complete listing online at https://www.nycgovparks.org/highlights/festivals/mulchfest.

            Please remember to remove all lights, ornaments, and netting before bringing the tree to a Mulchfest site.

            Weather permitting, the NYC Department of Sanitation will also be conducting curbside collections for mulching and recycling of Christmas trees from Monday, January 6 through Friday, January 17, 2020.

Mon., Jan. 20: Deadline for Citizens Committee Grant Applications for Local Community Organizations

            Do you have an idea to improve our community?  The Citizens Committee for New York City is now accepting applications from volunteer-led groups for its Neighborhood Grants program, which offers up to $3,000 and project planning support for initiatives aimed at bringing neighbors together and improving the quality of life in neighborhoods across the city.   The deadline to apply is January 20.  An organization does not have to be a registered 501(c)(3) to be able to receive a grant from CCNYC!

            Eligible groups include block associations, tenant associations, PTAs, gardening groups, cultural organizations and others.  Examples of projects considered for funding include turning a vacant lot into a community garden or community composting site; facilitating workshops on healthy cooking and eating; beautifying public spaces; arts and cultural programs; youth fitness initiatives; and much more.

            Organizations can access the application for 2020 Neighborhood Grants online at www.citizensnyc.org/grants. For more information about the application process or eligibility, contact Arif Ullah, Director of Programs, at aullah@citizensnyc.org or (212) 822-9580.

Wed., Jan. 22: Workshop on SCRIE & DRIE

            SCRIE and DRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption and Disability Rent Increase Exemption) help eligible New Yorkers stay in affordable apartments by freezing their rent. 

            From 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. on Wed., Jan. 22, the New York City Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit will host a workshop on the SCRIE and DRIE programs in conjunction with the office of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.  The event will be held at Selis Manor, 135 West 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in Chelsea. 

            To apply for SCRIE or DRIE, you must be at least 62 years old, or 18 with a qualifying disability; have a household income of $50,000 or less; live in a rent-regulated apartment (either rent-stabilized, rent-controlled, or a Single-Room-Occupancy hotel); and spend more than 1/3 of your income on rent. 

            To complete an application, you must provide photo identification; 2018 tax returns documenting the income of all household members; copies of your two most recent leases; and, if applicable, a copy of an Social Security Disability award letter or Veterans Administration disability or compensation notice of award letter.  Residents of NYHCA developments or Section 8 housing are not eligible.

            To RSVP for the workshop, please call 212-564-7757 or email SpeakerJohnson@council.nyc.gov.

Fighting to Preserve a Historic Fifth Avenue Building

      On December 18, I spoke at a rally to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to grant landmark designation to the Demarest Building at 339 Fifth Avenue.  An historic Beaux-Arts, iron-framed structure with four-story-high arched windows located on 33rd Street across from the Empire State Building, the Demarest was built in 1890 and originally housed a horse carriage showroom as well as the first electrically operated elevator in the world.  It was designed by the architectural firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell, whose founder James Renwick also created the plans for St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, among many other famous buildings.  Unfortunately, the Demarest is facing demolition because its owner, Pi Capital Partners, has filed an application to construct a new high-rise building.

      I have previously joined with community members and electing officials in unsuccessfully urging the preservation of the Demarest and other historic buildings in the area as part of a proposed expansion of the Madison Square North Historic District.  Now, our effort to save the Demarest is assuming new urgency in light of the imminent threat to its survival.


FIGHTING TO PRESERVE NEW YORK’S HISTORY: Last month, I joined members of the 29th Street Association and other elected officials to rally support for designating the Demarest Building on Fifth Avenue as a New York City landmark.

Crain’s: Assembly and Senate propose restoration of Medicaid funding

The Assembly and state Senate on Tuesday released details of their budget proposals, restoring $550 million in Medicaid funding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had stripped from his spending plan after a downward revision in expected tax revenue.

Times-Union: Hospitals, providers urge N.Y. lawmakers to restore Cuomo health care cuts

Health care workers, leaders and advocates swarmed the state Capitol Tuesday to urge lawmakers to restore $550 million in funds that were slashed from the governor’s original budget proposal to help plug a
larger than expected revenue shortfall.

Chanting “Don’t cut health care” and holding signs that said “Some cuts never heal,” hundreds of health care workers converged at the Empire State Plaza from all around the state and then marched to the Capitol, packing Albany’s normally busy downtown with off-duty ambulances, buses and foot traffic.

Testimony on the New York Health Act before the New York City Council

Testifying before the NYC Council in support of its resolution endorsing the New York Health Act, December 6, 2018

Testimony of Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried

in Support of the New York Health Act

Public Hearing: City Council Committee on Health

New York City Hall

December 6, 2018

I am Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried.  I chair the Assembly Health Committee and I am the introducer, along with Senator Gustavo Rivera, of the New York Health Act, to create single-payer health coverage for every New Yorker.  I appreciate the Council Health Committee holding this hearing on Speaker Corey Johnson’s resolution endorsing the bill.  I support the resolution.

In both houses of the State Legislature, we now have solid majorities who have co-sponsored, voted for, or campaigned supporting the NY Health Act.  And Governor Cuomo supports single-payer health coverage, although he says he has questions about whether it can be done at the state level.

Every New Yorker should have access to the health care they need, without financial obstacles or hardship.  No one says they disagree with that.  And the New York Health Act is the only proposal that can achieve that goal.

In NY State, we spend $300 billion – federal, state, and non-governmental – on health coverage.  Nationally, we spend far more than any industrial democracy as a percentage of GDP.  But 18 cents of the insurance premium dollar goes for insurance company bureaucracy and profit.  Our doctors and hospitals spend twice what Canadian doctors and hospitals do on administrative costs, because they have to fight with insurance companies.  We pay exorbitant prescription drug prices because no one has the bargaining leverage to negotiate effectively with drug companies.

Just about every New Yorker – patients, employees, employers, and taxpayers – is burdened by a combination of rising premiums, skyrocketing deductibles, co-pays, restrictive provider networks, out-of-network charges, coverage gaps, and unjustified denials of coverage.  I know I am, and I bet everyone in this room is.

And those financial burdens are not based on ability to pay.  The premium, the deductibles – the insurance company doesn’t care if you’re a multi-millionaire CEO or a receptionist.

In a given year, a third of households with insurance has someone go without needed health care because they can’t afford it – and usually for a serious condition.

The number one cause of personal bankruptcy is health care — even for those who have commercial health coverage.

We’ve put control of our health care in the hands of unaccountable insurance company bureaucrats. Nobody wants insurance company bureaucrats deciding what doctor you or your family can see and when.

The health insurance system means massive cost increases for most everyone and better health care for hardly anyone. It’s a disaster.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The NY Health Act will save billions of dollars for patients, employees, employers, health care providers and taxpayers – while providing complete health coverage to every New Yorker.

Everyone would be able to receive any service or product covered by any of the following:  NY Medicaid, Medicare, state insurance law mandates, and the current state public employee benefit, plus anything the plan decides to add.

And there will be no premiums, no deductibles, no co-pays, no restricted provider network, and no out-of-network charges.

We’ll actually save billions of dollars because we get rid of insurance company bureaucracy and profit, doctors and hospitals will be able to slash their administrative costs, and New York Health will be able to negotiate much lower drug prices by bargaining for 20 million patients.

And this lower cost will be shared fairly, based on ability to pay.  NY Health will be funded by broad-based progressively graduate taxes.

There will be one tax on payroll.  At least 80% of it must be paid by the employer.

There will be a similar tax on currently taxable “unearned” income – like capital gains and dividends.

Because of the savings and the progressively graduated tax mechanism, 90% or more of New Yorkers will spend less and have more in their pocket.

Pumping this money back into our economy will create 200,000 new jobs in New York.

And there will be money to completely cover everyone, and make sure doctors, hospitals and other providers are paid fairly – and today, most of the time, they are not.

The vast majority of our hospitals get most of their revenue from Medicaid, Medicare, and uncompensated care pools – none of which fully cover the cost of care.  The NY Health Act requires full funding for all hospital care, and hospitals will save billions in reduced administrative costs.

Here are 3 basic numbers:  The savings from insurance company bureaucracy and profit, provider administrative costs, and drug prices will total $55 billion.  The increased spending for covering everyone; eliminating deductibles, co-pays and out-of-network charges; and paying providers more fairly will cost $26 billion.  So the net savings to New Yorkers is $29 billion.

The way our society deals with long-term care – meaning home health care and nursing home care – for the elderly and people with disabilities is a moral outrage.  NY’s Medicaid does a much better job than other states.  But today, New Yorkers spend $11 billion a year out-of-pocket for long-term care.  And family members – usually women – provide unpaid home care worth $19 billion.

In January, Senator Rivera and I will be announcing that the NY Health Act will cover long-term care.

Now, that will use up $19 billion of the net savings.  But it means no NY family will have to wipe out lifetime savings, and no family member will have to give up a career, to provide long-term care for a loved one.  That’s profoundly important.

How much tax revenue will we need?  With the net savings, we’ll need $129 billion from the NY Health taxes.  When we add home care and nursing home care, we’ll need $159 billion.

How do we know the NY Health program will treat us – and our doctors and hospitals – fairly?  Two ways.

First, the legislation explicitly requires that provider payments be reasonable, related to the cost of providing the care, and assure an adequate supply of the care.  No coverage today has that guarantee.

Second, we’ll all be in the same boat; rich and poor.  Every New Yorker – every voter – will benefit from the program.  And every voter will have a stake in making sure our elected officials keep it as good as possible.

Remember where we started:  Every New Yorker should have access to needed health care, without financial obstacles or hardship.  We’re not there today.  The NY Health Act will get us there.  If anyone doesn’t like the NY Health Act, they should either put on the table another plan that will get us there, or admit that they’re OK with depriving millions of New Yorkers of health care or family financial stability.

Concerns have been raised by many of NY City’s municipal labor unions.  They are justifiably proud of the good deal they have won for their members over the years.  Good scope of coverage.  The City pays the full premium.  And the contract says that if there are savings in the health benefit, the savings go into a stabilization fund to pay for salaries and benefits.  As they remind us: at the bargaining table they have given up wages and benefits to protect this deal.

Under NY Health, by law, every municipal employee, like every New Yorker, would have an even broader scope of benefits, and without deductibles, co-pays and restricted provider networks and out-of-network charges.

Under the bill now, collective bargaining could continue to have the City pick up the whole tab for the payroll tax and pass on the savings to the stabilization fund.  But Sen. Rivera and I have offered to add bill language that by law would require the City to do that, without the need to bargain for it.

Our parents didn’t raise us to screw workers.  Period.  Sen. Rivera and I are determined to make sure that labor’s concerns are protected under the NY Health Act.  We are continuing the dialogue with them.

Thank you for letting me testify.

City & State NY: Health Care Officials Offer Diagnoses for New York’s Funding Challenges – Richard Gottfried, Mitchell Katz and Carlina Rivera Weigh In

(mayamaya/Shutterstock)

By City & State | February 27, 2018

Thanks to a flu season that’s one of the worst in recent memory, it has been a tough winter to stay healthy. Influenza hospitalizations are up and thousands have died. The flu vaccine has proven to be less effective than in years past, and public health experts say the disease may have yet to reach its peak. The spread of the virus is likely to continue for weeks.

It has also been a tough winter for New York policymakers and government officials who rely on Washington for funding. While congressional Republicans failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they’ve taken incremental steps to undermine the law, such as eliminating the individual mandate. The federal government has also reduced funding for safety net hospitals and for the ACA’s Basic Health Program, both of which play a major role in New York. Some Republicans in Washington still hope to scale back Medicaid and Medicare as well.

So we checked in with a few of New York’s top health care officials to hear their diagnosis of the situation – and how to remedy it.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (Jeff Coltin)

RICHARD GOTTFRIED, Chairman, Assembly Health Committee

C&S: What are your health legislative priorities this year?

RG: Our first order of business is, of course, dealing with health care cuts in the budget. This is not the worst year, not the worst budget we’ve seen, nor the best. But there are still serious cuts in health programs and restrictions in Medicaid that I and the Assembly will be trying to reverse. Beyond that, not necessarily in any particular order, passing the Reproductive Health Act in the Assembly again, and hopefully helping to advance it in the state Senate. A particular budget agenda item which we hope to deal with in the budget, and if not we will continue to try to deal with after the budget, is protecting safety net hospitals. The state’s various aid programs for hospitals are not very well targeted to get money to the hospitals that have the most serious financial need. Next, again in no particular order, is strengthening the medical marijuana program. I will be focusing on three issues there. One is to repeal the list of specific conditions for which medical marijuana can be used. There is no other drug that I know of that the law lists the conditions it can be used for. Secondly, today, only physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants can certify a patient for medical marijuana use. I think it makes sense that any practitioner who, under law today, can prescribe controlled substances ought to be able to certify a patient for medical use of marijuana as long as the treatment for the condition is within that practitioners scope of practice. The third piece deals with the current business model of producing, distributing and retailing, or dispensing, of medical marijuana. Today, all the licenses that have been issued require the registered organization to grow, process, distribute and dispense the product. There is almost no industry where we allow that degree of vertical integration, and certainly no industry where we require it. The next item is the New York Health Act, my single-payer bill. We will, I hope, pass that again in the Assembly as we have in the three years before. And our goal will be to continue to build support for that around that state. The last item is the Medical Aid in Dying bill that would allow an adult patient with decision-making capacity who is dying from a terminal illness to get a prescription for medication that would end their life. I think that legislation is very morally compelling for New York and I hope we can at least get it to the Assembly floor and pass it.

C&S: How would you assess the state of health care in New York based on what you’ve seen?

RG: It’s mixed. We have some of the finest health care providers, some of the finest physicians and hospitals in the country, but millions of New Yorkers still every year go without health care because they can’t afford or they suffer financially to get that care. Many of our nursing homes provide care that is well below national averages and well below standard. Our systems for inspecting nursing homes are really lacking. We need to invest a lot more of our resources into primary and preventive care, which is very difficult to do in a world where health care is controlled by insurance companies.

C&S: You mentioned your single-payer bill you would like to pass through the Assembly again. Why is that the best way forward for New York to go in in terms of health care?

RG: I believe that no New Yorker should go without health care or have to suffer financially to get it. To use the president’s term, that only gets complicated when the system is focused on the care and financing of insurance companies. And as long as our system is rooted in insurance companies, we will be spending tens of billions of dollars on, necessarily, on insurance company and health care provider administrative costs. You will have insurance companies taking thousands of dollars out of families’ pockets for premiums and deductibles and co-pays without any relation to ability to pay. And insurance companies telling us which doctors and hospitals we can go to, and which services they will pay for. To me, that’s no way to run a health care system. And I don’t know any alternative to a single-payer system that can work.

C&S: And you have seen support for that grow since you first introduced it?

RG: Oh, enormous growth and support, particularly in the last several years, because people have seen that while the Affordable Care Act made a lot of improvements, it still leaves us in the hands of the insurance companies with enormous problems. So people who thought maybe reforming the insurance system would do the job, now see that that really still leaves us falling way short. And it’s also clear that whatever health policy comes out of Washington is going to make things worse in New York, whether it’s for insurance or Medicaid or Medicare. So more than ever, people realize that, whether you call it improved Medicare for All, or single-payer, is really the only answer, and that we have really no alternative but to pursue that at the state level because it’s clearly not coming from Washington any time soon. And so we are constantly picking up more community organizations. There are activists all around the state having meetings with their state senators, there are more unions supporting the bill than ever before, so the issue really is moving forward more than I’ve ever seen.

C&S: Do you have any concerns for what is happening on the federal level, such as cuts in spending or other kinds of legislation that might affect health care in New York?

RG: Their efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act will undermine insurance in New York. They are already implementing cuts that are hurting the program called the Essential Plan, which is a subsidized health care program for people whose incomes are a little above Medicaid. And there will be more devastation coming to Medicaid any day now. And their next target will be Medicare. Republicans have had their eye on trashing Medicare since it was enacted in 1965. And that will be coming next. And all of that will be ripping money out of our health care system and putting more burden on out-of-pocket spending by New Yorkers who can’t afford it.

Dr. Mitchell Katz (NYC Health + Hospitals)

MITCHELL KATZ, President and CEO, New York City Health + Hospitals

C&S: What are the problems you’re facing at Health + Hospitals and what are your plans to address them?

MK: I believe, like the nuns, that there’s no mission without a margin. And so while my career has been dedicated to taking care of people who don’t have insurance, I’ve always done that by billing insurance for people who do have insurance, and attracting insured patients to my systems. Currently in Health + Hospitals, in most of our centers, we are still sending away insured patients, not providing the services that are better remunerated. This doesn’t come from a bad place, it’s sort of the history of public hospitals, that public hospitals like ours generally started before Lyndon Johnson’s Medicaid and Medicare in the ’60s when nobody had insurance. And so nobody billed and that was fine. But gradually, public hospital systems have learned how to bill and how to attract and keep paying patients, so there’s a margin to provide the care to the people who don’t have insurance. Health + Hospitals has a long way to go in that area, but this is work I’ve done in two other municipalities, and it’s well-known how to do it. And it’s a lot easier than saving people’s lives in trauma, which I’m proud my system does every day. So if we can revive a pulseless person who’s lost most of the blood volume in their body, surely we can learn how to bill insurance the way other systems do, and we are.

C&S: Could the affordable health care program that you spearheaded in California, Healthy San Francisco, work in New York City?

MK: I think that the model could work. Like a lot of other questions, it comes to participatory democracy. One of the features of Healthy San Francisco was that employers who did not provide insurance for their workers were required to pay into a fund or provide benefits or pay insurance bills. So that’s a political question as to whether or not the city would want to do that. It would have been a lot harder, maybe not impossible, but certainly a lot harder to have had the success we had in San Francisco without the employer spending requirement.

New York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (Ali Garber)

CARLINA RIVERA, Chairwoman, New York City Council Hospitals Committee

C&S: What has been your experience so far heading this new Committee on Hospitals?

CR: Well, it’s been educational. It’s definitely been informative as to how nuanced the issues can be. We have two other committees that are tackling issues in the health field, but we’re focused on hospitals. So what I’ve been doing is trying to meet with as many stakeholders, groups, individuals, people who are advocates, people who are retired advocates who worked in hospitals and with patients, and really try to get a broad perspective of what’s going on, how the budget, the deficit is affecting patient care, and how best we can use this committee for oversight, for investigations. But also to push forward legislation that’s going to take care of all New Yorkers. My focus is to really dive deep into Health + Hospitals, but also bring in our private partners. This is a very big network, I say it’s the most important public system in the city, and I want to make sure we’re talking about the underinsured, the insured, the undocumented and all of the people who are so dependent on the system. So again, it’s going to be a focus on the public system, but bring in our private partners as well. And it’s been eye-opening. There are a lot of people working on different campaigns, local, citywide and of course statewide, so I’m trying to, again, meet with as many different people as possible, other elected officials who are chairs of their own committees in their own legislative bodies, and then of course labor and community leaders that do the work.

C&S: Based on some of these meetings that you’ve been having, what is the most pressing issue when it comes to Health + Hospitals?

CR: I would say that would be DSH funds, Disproportionate Share Hospital programs, and that’s the funding to hospitals that treat the poorest New Yorkers. And also the risks from Washington, the threats of cuts to this very important care, these programs, the charity dollars and the way they’re distributed amongst the public and private systems. But when I talked to people, undoubtedly, one of the first things that comes up is DSH. I think it’s also about how are we going to address a billion-dollar deficit and keep 11 major hospitals open? We have the mayor’s commitment that he will keep these facilities open, but how are we going to look at underutilization in terms the spaces in these brick-and-mortar facilities? And how are we going to generate revenue? I had a really great conversation with (President and CEO of Health + Hospitals) Dr. (Mitchell) Katz, along with some of the committee staff here at the Council, just to get a little preview of some of the issues that we’re going to be going over next week. And he has some basic, I think, fundamental outlook on how to make sure we’re getting the reimbursements that we’re not getting, and to implement a more efficient system, and getting paid for the services we’re providing.

C&S: Dr. Katz is also new to Health + Hospitals, and you’re the new head of a new committee. What is that like, to have everyone who’s now trying to tackle this problem be fairly new? Is that detriment or is it good to have a lot of fresh ideas coming in?

CR: I think that’s it, you took the words right out of my mouth. I think it’s great to have fresh ideas. I think it’s good to have someone with a different perspective. He’s coming from tackling a similar issue in another major city. I come from more of the community-based care perspective. My work in Healthy Aging has been working with seniors, with very low-income families in accessing health care and navigating the Affordable Care Act. Though my experience is limited and his is incredibly comprehensive, I’m really excited because it just allows for a clear break from past issues and mismanagement, and I think that’s going to be something that’s going to be important to looking at the health care system in a different lens.

C&S: Was this a chairmanship that you had wanted? And how did you feel when you received it?

CR: Yes, of course. I think I’ve said this before, that I think that making this its own standalone, full committee, it shows the needed urgency for such an important issue. I did mention my interest to the speaker. We’re very aligned when it comes to our beliefs and values and the things we want to achieve in terms of our agenda for the City Council. So we talked a lot about health. We talked about some of the work that he had done, how I wanted to continue that work in terms of the legislation and the policy he put forward, and then bringing my own ideas based on my experience. So this was something I was interested in, and when I was assigned to it, I was very, very excited. I know that I have him for support, I have a great committee staff here and lots of advocates throughout the cities.

Assembly Health Committee Year in Review

Assembly Health Committee Year-End Update

The Assembly Health Committee wrapped up 2017 with 34 bills signed into law and 19 vetoed, including four which were vetoed with specific agreement for further administrative actions. Some bills were signed or vetoed based on agreements to enact changes in 2018. (A governor often raises concerns and wants changes in a bill after it has been passed by the Legislature. This usually happens after the Legislature has adjourned for the year. It is not widely known to the public, but in New York it is common for a governor to insist that the leaders of the Legislature agree to changes in a bill as a condition of the governor signing it. If the legislative leaders and the bill’s sponsors agree, the governor then signs the bill and the Legislature enacts the changes early in the following year.)

The Assembly Health Committee also held public hearings including:

  • Home care workforce adequacy.
  • Adult home oversight and funding.
  • Health care services in state prisons and local jails.
  • Nursing home quality of care and enforcement.
  • Water quality budget implementation.
  • Immigrant access to healthcare.

Below are summaries of bills acted on by the Governor as well as the public hearings.

Times-Union: Will New York’s school health centers survive Medicaid change?

November 1, 2017

ALBANY — The number of New York public schools with on-site health centers has nearly doubled in the past two decades, with data showing benefits to both student health and academics.

But a looming change in the way these centers are reimbursed for Medicaid patients could cause them to scale back services or close altogether, officials warned Tuesday at a news conference in the Legislative Office Building.

State legislators and health and education leaders called on the governor to sign legislation that would halt the change, by granting school-based health centers a permanent “carve-out,” or exemption, from the state’s Medicaid Managed Care program.

“Forcing school-based health centers into Medicaid managed care plans will wreck a model that works,” said Assembly Health Chair Richard Gottfried, who co-sponsored the legislation with Sen. James Seward.

Legislative Gazette: Lawmakers and educators push to save school based health centers

By Thomas Pudney, November 1

Lawmakers and health care and education experts are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation they say will ease financial burdens on school based health centers.

The legislation, sponsored in the Assembly by Richard Gottfried, D–Manhattan, and in the Senate by James Seward, R–Oneonta, would maintain the current system, by which SBHC are directly reimbursed by Medicaid which allows the clinics to keep overhead and administrative costs low.

The state Department of Health is planning to change the reimbursement system as of July 1, 2018 when SBHCs will be required to negotiate the terms and conditions of payment through managed care plans. A report by the Children’s Defense Fund found that this transition will cost SBHCs over $16 million in lost revenue. Already, SBHCs have suffered over $7 million, or nearly 30 percent in funding cuts since 2008, while their patient population has grown.

Huffington Post: New York State Will Cover Breast Milk Donations For Preemies From Low-Income Families

By Caroline Bologna, 4/24/17

New York recently became the latest state to cover breast milk donations for babies from low-income families.

On April 9, the New York State Legislature approved the 2017-18 state budget, which includes a provision granting Medicaid coverage for donor breast milk to premature babies in the NICU. The measure received bipartisan support.

“We are putting our babies first and our legislators understand that,” executive director of the New York Milk Bank, Julie Bouchet-Horwitz, told The Huffington Post. Bouchet-Horwitz noted that “all babies, regardless of the economic status of their parents,” deserve access to pasteurized donor human milk (PDHM) when their own mothers’ milk is not available or sufficient.