Last Wednesday, the State Assembly passed the Health Care Reform Act of 2000, which makes health insurance more affordable and accessible, and strengthens the local health-care system by providing greater financial stability to area hospitals.
Besides the Catholic and Kaleida health-care systems, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Erie County Medical Center and the University at Buffalo are also primary beneficiaries of HCRA 2000. This landmark legislation has been hailed as a national model for addressing the plight of the uninsured.
The bipartisan HCRA 2000 agreement preserves enacted Medicaid cost-containments while guaranteeing no new Medicaid cuts for three years. It strengthens the bad debt and charity pool so that hospitals in less affluent areas will not face financial problems in caring for the indigent. It also eliminates the onerous lab fees paid by insurers and, ultimately, consumers.
A Dec. 23 News editorial incorrectly claimed that the Assembly and those who support the bill have voted for a huge unfunded mandate that will harm our counties. Over the past months, as HCRA 2000 was negotiated, some had sought to undo the Medicaid cost-containment measures we had enacted in the past. Their efforts were unsuccessful.
This means an annual recurring Medicaid cost savings of $12,596,036 for Erie County, a very sizable savings to local real property taxpayers.
HCRA 2000 also builds on our existing Child Health Plus program with a new Family Health Plus initiative to help meet the insurance needs of the nearly 1 million uninsured New Yorkers. In Erie County, an estimated 29,710 now uninsured people will be eligible for Family Health Plus coverage.
The Assembly this summer voted to have the state pay the full costs of this new Family Health Plus program, but the final bill includes a county share that was insisted on by Gov. George Pataki. The governor identified the county share of the tobacco-settlement revenues to support a county contribution.
The Assembly voted to support HCRA 2000 because the health-care and employment benefits far outweigh any financial impact on counties. But, when weighed against the $12.5 million in Medicaid cost-containment savings to Erie County, the $2.6 million cost to the county for participating in Family Health Plus still yields a net benefit savings to Erie County of close to $10 million annually, without touching the tobacco-settlement funds.
ROBIN SCHIMMINGER, D-KENMORE
PAUL A. TOKASZ, D-CHEEKTOWAGA
SAM HOYT, D-BUFFALO
RICHARD A. SMITH, D-HAMBURG