A first look at Governor Cuomo’s 2015-2016 health care budget

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Guest post: Elisabeth R. Benjamin, Vice President of Health Initiatives, Community Service Society of New York

The eagerly awaited  Cuomo Administration’s budget bill was posted late Wednesday afternoon, January 21, 2015.  The health section is a mere 170 pages long, making it a tough winter evening read. HCFANY’s policy experts and allies will parse the details over the next week and post a detailed reaction…err, later.  However, we have identified two bits of good news for New York’s health insurance consumers right away.

First, the Governor Cuomo proposed a broad-based insurance financing mechanism for the NY State of Health Marketplace.  This is good news for individuals and small employers because it means that those folks who are insured through the Marketplace will not disproportionately shoulder the burden of guaranteeing affordable, quality health coverage for New Yorkers.  The alternative of placing a financing fee on marketplace enrollees would have resulted in Marketplace enrollees paying higher insurance rates than individuals and groups covered by plans purchased outside of the Marketplace.  The broad-based financing mechanism proposed by the Administration will ensure a level playing field for all New York’s health insurance consumers.

The second piece of great news is that the Cuomo Administration has proposed $2.5 million in state funding for the Community Health Advocates (CHA) program.  CHA has offered information about how to enroll and use health insurance coverage and care to nearly 200,000 New Yorkers since its launch in late 2010.  CHA’s  network of 21 community based organizations, small business serving groups (like Chambers of Commerce), and specialists serve New Yorkers both in their local communities and through a live answer help-line.  Together, CHA’s groups act as an “HR” department for New York’s health insurance consumers who need a little extra help accessing or understanding how to get care.

HCFANY lauds Governor Cuomo’s Administration on these proposals and looks forward to working with the Administration during this legislative season.

 2015 HCFANY Annual Meeting 085

Courtney Burke (right), Deputy Secretary for Health for New York State accepts HCFANY’s 2015 Health Consumer Champion Award from Kate Breslin (left), President and CEO of Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy.

 Guest Post: Bob Cohen, Policy Director, Citizen Action of New York

Close to 100 health care advocates, coming from every corner of the state (Long Island, New York City, the Hudson Valley, the Capital District, the North Country, the Southern Tier and Central New York), braved the wintry weather on January 9th for HCFANY’s 2015 annual meeting in Albany.

In the opening panel, three HCFANY Steering Committee members set the stage by reviewing recent HCFANY successes of the past year and the challenges we face, particularly on the federal level. The panelists reviewed HCFANY’s role in promoting the state’s recent health coverage expansions, including the enrollment of over 1 million New Yorkers in the NY State of Health Marketplace during its first year and the creation of a Basic Health Program to offer more affordable coverage to lower-income working New Yorkers (see attached presentation notes). But key challenges lie ahead, including potential attempts by Congress to undermine the Affordable Care Act.  Advocates need to be vigilant to ensure that Congress does not chip away at the law with, for example, cuts to subsidies to buy health coverage. Another key issue to watch in 2015 is the September expiration of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (Child Health Plus in New York), which could endanger the coverage of hundreds of thousands of New York children.

A second panel on HCFANY’s policy agenda for 2015 outlined next steps for ensuring quality, affordable coverage in the state, including covering all immigrants, maintaining a strong, statewide consumer assistance program, and ensuring that consumers purchasing plans through NY State of Health have access to out-of-network coverage.

And attendees heard an important briefing on the state’s recent moves towards payment and delivery systems reform.  Panelists emphasized that as New York moves rapidly forward on these initiatives, consumer advocates have to weigh in to ensure that consumers are protected and see the benefits of the restructuring. Presentations are available here, here and here.

Finally, attendees had the chance to put lessons into action, by developing action plans for HCFANY’s policy agenda. Please watch this space to see how HCFANY’s work unfolds during this year’s legislative session!

Full Manhattan panel

From left to right, Mark Hannay, LGBT Task Force Co-Chair; Star Morris of Callen-Lorde Community Health Center; City Council Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson; Jay Laudato, Executive Director of Callen-Lorde; David Sandman, Senior Vice President of the NYS Health Foundation; and Lois Uttley, LGBT Task Force Co-Chair.

Uninsured LGBT New Yorkers Urged to Sign Up for Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Plans by Feb. 15 Deadline

Guest Post: Lois Uttley, Director of Raising Women’s Voices – NY and C0-Chair of HCFANY’s LGBT Task Force

HCFANY LGBT Task Force members today launched a week of activities to inform uninsured LGBT New Yorkers about their coverage options and help them apply before the Feb. 15 enroll through the NY State of Health Marketplace. An estimated 1 in 4 LGBT people who would qualify for financial aid to buy health plans are still uninsured nationwide.

New York City Council Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson joined Task Force members for a kickoff press conference at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in Chelsea, one of several LGBT-friendly Navigator agencies participating in this week’s activities. “This week, we are getting the word out to LGBT New Yorkers in all five boroughs: Get enrolled, get covered! All New Yorkers deserve quality, affordable health insurance,” said Council Member Johnson, who facilitates the Council’s LGBT Caucus. “There is a wide variety of services available to help LGBT New Yorkers get enrolled and every effort must be made to inform the community about them. This is particularly important because there are well-documented health disparities that affect our community.”

NYS Health Foundation Vice President David Sandman noted the success of NY State of Health Marketplace so far in enrolling previously uninsured New Yorkers and the importance of the new coverage opportunities for LGBT people. “For LGBT New Yorkers, those benefits cannot come soon enough. Numerous studies have found that LGBT people are uninsured at disproportionately high rates.” The Foundation has been supporting the work of HCFANY and LGBT Navigator agencies such as Callen-Lorde.

Callen-Lorde Executive Director Jay Laudato explained his agency’s experience with providing enrollment assistance: “At Callen-Lorde, we were thrilled to be able to enroll nearly 3,000 individuals – many of whom were previously uninsured – with low and no-cost health insurance products under the Affordable Care Act..”

Other LGBT-friendly agencies participating in the week’s activities include the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, Voces Latinas in Queens, GMHC, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, the Community Service Society and Make the Road NY, which has offices in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Information and enrollment events are scheduled in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester County. All of these organizations belong to HCFANY’s LGBT Task Force, which has organized the week’s activities, said Task Force Co-Chair Mark Hannay.

“We want uninsured LGBT New Yorkers to know that you can apply for coverage without fear of discrimination or being turned down because of pre-existing conditions,” said LGBT Task Force Co-Chair Lois Uttley. She noted that same-sex married couples and any children they may have are eligible for family coverage. Under a new state policy, private health plans being offered in the NY State of Health Marketplace now must cover medically-necessary gender transition services. The state has also proposed lifting some of the existing restrictions on Medicaid coverage for medically-necessary transgender care.

LGBT Health Insurance Outreach and Enrollment Week is being organized by the LGBT Task Force of Health Care for All New York (HCFANY, www.hcfany.org), as part of a national week of activities, endorsed by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, to reach uninsured LGBT Americans with information about new health insurance coverage options created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Organizations involved in planning and coordinating this week of events in New York include the Beth Israel Medical Center/Mount Sinai Health System, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Community Service Society of New York, LGBT Community Center, Make the Road New York, Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign, Raising Women’s Voices-New York and Voces Latinas.

Guest Post: Kari Siddiqui, Policy Analyst, Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy

Everyone cheered when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) included a provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turned 26.  An equally important and lesser-known provision extends health insurance coverage to young adults formerly in foster care, who are unlikely to have the option of receiving health coverage through family. The ACA extends Medicaid access to these youth, with no income restrictions, until they turn 26.

The Medicaid to 26 provision went into effect in January 2014 and offers health insurance coverage to the more than 20,000 youth who age out of foster care across the country each year. In New York State alone 1,283 youth aged out of foster care in 2012. These young adults particularly need health coverage as they transition from foster care into their independent adult lives.

The Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, a member of the HCFANY steering committee, is working to ensure that young adults can take advantage of this benefit. With input from our State partners, the New York State Department of Health and the Office of Children and Family Services, Schuyler Center developed materials to help youth understand and access this benefit. Young adults with ties to foster care – those still in care and those who have aged out – are helping us to shape the message, target outreach, and design materials. Their input helps us understand how to reach youth where they are and communicate effectively.

Drawing on this input, Schuyler Center developed outreach and education materials, including a brochure with an application checklist, newsletter articles, videos (like the one above featuring Shanice), a youth-targeted Everything You Need to Know guide to the Medicaid to 26 benefit, as well as a toolkit for providers. Please join us in these outreach efforts, and use the materials we’ve created to reach youth and providers in New York State and in your communities across the country. Follow Schuyler Center on Twitter at @SchuylerCenter using the hashtag #Medicaidto26 and find all materials on our website: www.scaany.org/scaa-resources/medicaid-to-26