Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell is again calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to keep the cap on the counties’ Medicaid costs and not shift more of the expense to local taxpayers.
“We hope the governor considers what will happen to local taxes and services if the counties are forced to take on more of the state’s share of Medicaid,” Odell said. “We will always meet our obligations to our most vulnerable citizens, but the governor’s proposal will force us to choose between raising taxes and cutting other essential services, like road repair, or programs for veterans, seniors and youth. Something’s got to give.”
The governor’s proposed budget calls for counties statewide to kick in $150 million to pay for Medicaid’s skyrocketing costs, even though counties do not set the eligibility guidelines and have no control over the enrollment or cost increases.
State Sen. Sue Serino said the state should find another solution to its budget problem.
“The Governor’s proposal to shift Medicaid costs onto cash-strapped counties is nothing more than a gimmick being used to try and balance a bloated state budget,” Serino said. “The proposal does nothing to reign in wasteful spending, and instead will only hurt local property taxpayers. It is not right and I will continue to stand strong against it.”
State Sen. Pete Harckham warned that counties like Putnam would struggle under the changes.
“The present proposal to move state Medicaid costs over to the counties will cause unplanned belt-tightening in local budgets that are already precariously balanced,” Harckham said. “Instead, a plan to deal with enrollment and cost increases is needed, rather than expecting municipalities to make up each budget shortfall with funds earmarked for infrastructure repairs and investments.”
In 2012, to help counties and local governments adhere to the 2% property tax cap, Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers enacted a zero growth Medicaid cap. The cap helped counties stabilize and, in several cases, reduce county property tax rate levies.
But now, the governor proposes that each county keep its Medicaid cost increase to just 3% or be responsible for any additional increases.
“The Governor is essentially trying to remove the cap on the largest single expenditure in the county budget ($9.6 million per year) while expecting us to adhere to the property tax cap,” said William Carlin, Putnam County Commissioner of Finance. “It simply cannot be done without drastic choices being made.”
Assemblyman Kevin Byrne said that additional local taxes would stunt economic growth.
“Eliminating the global cap on Medicaid and forcing more costs onto local property taxpayers is entirely unacceptable and is not a viable solution for our state’s budget deficit,” Byrne said. “New York is one of the few states in the union that continues to force county governments to fund a share of Medicaid costs. That’s on top of the costs we as taxpayers pay through our state and federal income taxes. Medicaid provides essential services to our most vulnerable populations and serves as an important safety net, but eliminating the cap and/or shifting more costs onto local governments doesn’t address the root problem in our state’s budget.”
Lawmakers are not alone in calling on the state to come up with a different plan to plug its estimated $6 billion budget hole. A group of 79 clergy members wrote to the governor and made the same plea.
“Our vocation calls for us to take care of each other, especially the most vulnerable,” the group wrote. “Time and again, as faith leaders we see that budget cuts hurt those who most desperately need services. We should not balance budgets on the backs of our most vulnerable.”
Medicaid costs have, indeed, increased. In Putnam alone, the costs have risen by $4 million from 2018 to 2019.
Before 2015 in Putnam County, about 5,000 residents were enrolled in Medicaid. By July 2019, the county had 13,114 Medicaid recipients. The county enrolled fewer than 3,000 of recipients, the rest were enrolled by the state, said county social services Commissioner Michael Piazza.
“The Putnam County Department of Social Services takes seriously its mission to serve the most vulnerable persons in Putnam while being attentive to and considerate of the sacrifices made by Putnam taxpayers. This extends to a county philosophy of always remembering that when we save dollars for Putnam residents, we are saving dollars for New York state as a whole,” Piazza said. “As a result, we carry out our mission of determining Medicaid eligibility in a manner that follows the criteria determined and required by the State of New York and ensuring that only those people who are eligible for services are actually enrolled in those services.”
The county takes fraud prevention so seriously that we have utilized outside consultants to aid our staff in training and review of those cases that are most complicated and prone to fraud, Piazza said.
“Time is running out,” Odell said. “The state budget is set to be adopted on April 1. We urge the governor and the Legislature to work with the counties to find a solution.”