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State can’t keep squeezing money from its taxpayers

With the state facing a $6.1 billion budget deficit, nearly half of which (roughly $4 billion) is tied to the state’s Medicaid program, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, told reporters in Albany recently that the state will have to raise revenue to cover the shortfall.

Get ready for three months of discussions about which taxes and fees are going to be increased to pay for the state’s lavish spending.

Fellow Assembly members rolled their eyes at Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, during floor debates on legislation during the last legislative session when Goodell gave his reasons for voting against bills that would have added to the services covered by Medicaid. One of those bills, A.648A, passed by the state Legislature was recently vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, proof that Goodell’s reasoning on the legislation is solid. A.648A would have made care and services by licensed mental health practitioners eligible for coverage under Medicaid. Goodell said on the floor that he was unwilling to add services to Medicaid no matter how worthy given the program’s cost.

“Our Medicaid program currently has the dubious distinction of being one of the most expensive in the nation, even though the size of New York state is smaller than California or Florida,” Goodell said on the Assembly floor earlier this year. “The cost of our Medicaid program exceeds theirs combined. And so while I appreciate the services that are likely provided by mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, creative art therapists and psychoanalysts, this is another expensive expansion of our Medicaid program beyond the medical care that we’ve currently provided.”

Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, replied that there wouldn’t be an increase in Medicaid spending because the patients receiving services are already eligible under Medicaid, but increasing providers eligible to bill through Medicaid simply allows more people with mental health issues to be seen by mental health professionals.

Huh?

Isn’t it reasonable to assume that increasing mental health providers who can bill Medicaid and seeing more patients who would have their mental health counseling bills paid through Medicaid lead to an increase in mental health spending through Medicaid? We don’t mean to pick on Bronson, but his thinking in justifying A.648A is the reason the state’s Medicaid program is $4 billion over budget. Every time an Assembly member or a state senator uses the reasoning that it’s a good program that will only cost a little bit more each year, those little bits add up. Bit by bit, you end up with the most expensive Medicaid program in the country, yet no one can pinpoint exactly why.

There will be dozens of bills like A.648A being debated on the floor of the state Legislature this year. If they add even a little to the cost of the Medicaid program, they should be voted down.

At the same time, it is imperative that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature start cutting down on the state’s Medicaid cost. That means program cuts. People won’t like it, but it’s impossible to rein in costs without eliminating programs.

Of course, that’s not the direction the Assembly speaker wants to take.

“We have a big problem here in terms of the Medicaid budget, but as far as we’re concerned in the Assembly, we always want to make sure we are providing adequate health care to the people in the state of New York,” Heastie told the New York Post last week.

He may need to realize that the state can’t keep squeezing taxpayers — both residential and businesses.

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