Health Care

DCCC Launches Campaign Against NY Congressional Members

UPDATED 2:30 p.m. – The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a digital campaign in response to a new amendment to the Republican health care plan. The proposal, seen as a potential compromise between the Conservative House Freedom Caucus and more moderate Republicans, would allow states to opt out of provisions that guarantee patients with preexisting conditions receive coverage and don’t pay more.

Also written into that amendment, according to the DCCC, is an exemption that would keep those protections in place for members of Congress, should their state seek the waiver. A spokesperson for the committee said it’s a clear indication they understand the potential impact of the legislation on patients.

“Removing protections for people with pre-existing conditions will go down in infamy as one of the most heartless acts of this Republican Congress. As proof of the repeal bill’s devastating impact, Representatives Zeldin and Tenney are exempting themselves from the punishment they are willing to inflict on their constituents,” said DCCC Spokesman Evan Lukaske. “This digital ad campaign will educate voters in targeted districts about this morally bankrupt Congressional Carveout.”

Among the GOP representatives who the campaign is targeting are Claudia Tenney (NY-22), Lee Zeldin (NY-1), and John Faso (NY-19).  The committee said while Tenney and Zeldin have not publicly committed to voting for the plan, they have been very supportive of repealing the Affordable Care Act in general.

“It’s shocking that Nancy Pelosi and her liberal allies would claim to have any credibility left as they sit in Washington watching Obamacare collapse around them. Democrats are desperate to deflect attention away from their failed record – which has caused premiums to skyrocket, restricted choices for consumers, and suffocated small businesses with higher taxes and more regulations,” National Republican Congressional Committee Regional Press Secretary Chris Martin responded.

Higgins: AHCA ‘Screws’ Americans

From the Morning Memo:

Think Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins plans to vote for the American Health Care Act when the House votes on the bill today? Think again.

“They’re looking to screw the American people; this bill screws the American people,” Higgins said.

The Buffalo Democrat didn’t mince words about his feelings for the legislation, calling it a scam perpetrated on the American people.

Higgins said if the ACHA is passed, people between the ages of 50 and 64 will see premium increases and less health care, while insurance companies and executives get tax cuts.

“There’s an unemployment tax on the unemployed so if your insurance lapses because of unemployment, the insurance companies will hit you with a penalty that goes directly to the insurance companies,” he said.

Higgins said he won’t support an amendment introduced by his Western New York colleague, Republican Rep. Chris Collins, despite the fact it’s supported by the state Association of Counties and could provide mandate relief, explaining: “It’s an exchange for supporting this bill, and this bill is a disaster.”

This is something of a turnaround for the Democratic congressman, who over the weekend was saying he supports Collins’ proposal to have the state take over the counties’ share of Medicaid.

Higgins later said that upon taking a closer look at the amendment, he discovered it presents New York with a double whammy: the cost cuts it would face under the other parts of the health bill, along with the $2.3 billion it would lose annually from the counties. “New York State is going to get clobbered under this bill,” he told The Buffalo News.

Higgins said Congress should be discussing a way to leverage the 57 million Medicare participants and negotiate lower prescription prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts Cheers Assembly One-House

Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts cheered on Tuesday the one-house budget resolution by the Democratic-controlled Assembly for bolstering funding for Planned Parenthood organizations in the state.

The group, which represents New York Planned Parenthood affiliates, pointed to the $750,000 in funding included in the budget resolution that would include funding for family planning services and the adolescent pregnancy prevention program.

“We thank Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly Majority for standing up for New Yorkers’ health care,” said Robin Chappelle Golston, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, in a statement.

“Planned Parenthood provides irreplaceable health care services, as well as ensuring that New Yorkers have the power to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives. Every day, in communities statewide, Planned Parenthood provides quality, nonjudgmental health care to all New Yorkers, regardless of income. Any potential loss of Planned Parenthood services would have a devastating effect on our health. We are fortunate to have state leadership that understands our health care must be based on people, not politics.”

The push for strengthening Planned Parenthood comes as Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives consider legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood nationwide through a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Federal law restricts the direct funding of abortion services with taxpayer dollars.

An ACA repeal that includes a rollback of Medicaid could have an added impact on Planned Parenthood: 57 percent of its patients in New York were Medicaid recipients in 2015.

Zucker Touts Hoosick Falls Water As Among Cleanest In U.S.

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Thursday touted efforts to filter drinking water in the village of Hoosick Falls, insisting it is “probably the cleanest water in the entire nation.”

“It’s very important to recognize that water in Hoosick Falls is not contaminated,” he said. “It is probably the cleanest water, among the cleanest water, in the entire state. For that matter, it’s probably among the cleanest water in the entire nation.”

His comments come amid renewed concerns in the rural village near the Vermont border after officials at Honeywell while testing for PFOA found levels of volatile organic compounds — an airborne contaminant that has been used in household products.

In comments to reporters after testifying before a joint legislative budget hearing on health care spending, Zucker said the state was practicing “aggressive” oversight at the Honeywell site.

“Honeywell is the corporate polluter there. We are monitoring,” he said. “It’s their responsibility to look at the soil — the soil evaporation process is the concern there. Honeywell is responsible for that and we have aggressive oversight — DEC and DOH — on that issue.”

But at the same time, Zucker sought to assure residents the water filtration system installed by the state have been working well by removing PFOA contaminants from the drinking water.

“It’s provided unbelievable success there,” he said.

Here’s some video of the exchange:

Cuomo Admin: Prescription Drug Plan Will Withstand Legal Challenge

The plan to have New York regulate and control the price of prescription drugs will withstand legal challenges, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top health officials told state lawmakers at a joint budget hearing on Thursday.

“We considered and worked on this project and proposal for a good long time because we are well aware that other states have had proposals challenged in the courts,” said Jason Helgerson, the governor’s top Medicaid adivsor. “We are confident the governor’s proposal will stand up to any legal scrutiny.”

The proposal is aimed at creating a price ceiling for drug costs, cracking down of “abusive business practices” of pharmacy benefit managers and impose a fee on high-cos drugs when sold in the state.

Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald, a pharmacist, is skeptical of the proposal and its $55 million cost.

“I think today’s hearing is giving some insight into their strategy, which is if they put up a very strong policy, the manufacturers will adhere to it,” McDonald said.

But at the same time, he was taken aback by the degree of certainty Helgerson and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker had over the plan holding up in court given the struggles other states have had enacting similar policies.

“They were very clearly that it would. I was surprise to hear that,” he said. “Obviously it has not done well in other states, but at the end of the day there’s a $55 million price tag tied to this in the budget.”

Rep. Collins On Obamacare: ‘We’re Not Going To Be Pulling The Rug Out From Anyone’

Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act was a rallying cry for Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump throughout the campaign season, but one of Trump’s top surrogates in Congress said he doesn’t expect everything to change overnight.

“I believe the plans that people are now signing up for will be their insurance plans for 2017. There’s nothing we can do today that would impact that,” Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo this morning.

Despite pending Republican control of both houses and the executive branch, Collins doesn’t believe a full repeal of the law in plausible. The GOP doesn’t have the 60 votes in the Senate required to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

Rather, Collins said in Trump’s first 100 days, Republicans will repeal pieces of the law through the reconciliation process, which requires fewer votes but limits what can be removed.

“It’ll be like the repeal we put on his (President Obama’s) desk (last year), medical device tax, health insurance tax, employer mandate, employee mandate, 40 hour week, work week. We can do that through reconciliation,” Collins said.

As for the replacement piece, he said the GOP Congress has some ideas but will have to run them by the Trump administration. He said the American people can expect a transition period.

“You don’t cut it off on a Tuesday and on Wednesday say here’s the new plan. Insurance companies have to put out their plans for 2018, in many cases, by April. So we do have a timeline that we have to adhere to and I think everyone realizes, for the year of 2017, we’re not going to be pulling the rug out from anyone.”

DFS Releases 2017 Insurance Rates

The state’s insurance regulators on Friday released the 2017 health insurance rates for New York individual and small group markets, showing increases for both.

The Department of Financial Services announced small group market rates will increase 8.3 percent. For the individual market, rates will increase to 16.6 percent.

Both rate increases are smaller than what insurers had sought earlier this year with state regulators, with rates of 12.3 percent for the small group market and 19.3 percent for individual plans.

Officials at DFS insisted the lower rate increases will ultimately save policyholders money.

“DFS carefully examined the rates requested by health insurers to reduce excessive health insurance premium increases in the face of rising national healthcare and pharmaceutical costs,” said DFS Superintendent Vullo.

“While premiums are increasing nationally, New York’s rates are comparable or lower than rates requested and approved in other states. More than 50 percent of consumers buying plans through the NY State of Health will receive a tax credit offsetting the increases in premiums, and for some the credit will result in lower actual premiums. DFS will continue to protect consumers and ensure access to healthcare, while maintaining a vibrant and competitive New York insurance market.”

The main factor driving insurance rate increases has been underlying medical costs, DFS said. With the 2017 rate announcement, the department estimated the average claim trend for insurers is at 7 percent for the individual market and 8.5 percent for the group market. Inpatient hospital and drug costs made up the largest portion of medical costs.

Cuomo and DOH Announce Action Plan for Zika Virus

Governor Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, Thursday, announced a 6-point action plan to prevent the spread of the Zika Virus in New York.

The Department of Health has identified nine counties in the New York City area, the northern suburbs and Long Island as areas of outbreak. The virus is spread through either sexual contact or by a specific strain of mosquito, which Zucker says makes up about three to five percent of mosquitoes in New York.

The plan focuses on stopping the spread of that type of mosquito while providing services to those who may be impacted by the virus.

The state will distribute 100,000 larvicide tablets for residents to use in standing water where the mosquitoes typically reproduce. They will also distribute 1,000 mosquito traps to study the population. Zucker says that will include testing 60,000 mosquitoes per month at a lab in Albany.

They will also distribute 20,000 Zika kits for pregnant women, who can find them at health care providers in the affected areas. A Rapid Response Team will also be formed to visit areas where Zika has been found, or if Zika continues to spread north.

Zucker is also requiring local health officials to develop their own Zika action plans to be used in the case of a widespread outbreak. His department is also launching a public awareness campaign on the virus.

Evidence suggests that Zika virus may be linked to microcephaly, a condition where children are born with less than average size heads and possible neurological issues. Zucker says about 80 percent of people who have the virus do not exhibit symptoms, though the virus can also lead to paralysis or death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 193 travel-related cases of Zika Virus had been identified in the United States as of March 9. Governor Cuomo says 49 cases have been identified in New York and the number is expected to increase.

Senators: “Grave Concern” Over State’s Handling of Health Republic Shutdown

State Senators Kemp Hannon and Jim Seward sent a letter, Thursday, to the state’s health exchange and the Department of Financial Services “with grave concern” over how the state is handling the closing of Health Republic – a health co-op that was shut down by state regulators in September.

The Senators write in the letter that the top priority for the state in the immediate future should be to transition Health Republic customers to new health insurance plans.

The state has worked to alleviate the transition for customers by extending open enrollment in the state health exchange until November 30th for customers. The state also plans to auto-enroll some people in new plans, but “it is unclear how the mechanics of this will be implemented”, the Senators write.

The letter also brings up a new issue in the Health Republic debacle – group coverage. The Senators write that customers should be notified sooner rather than later if their employer will no longer provide small group health coverage.

This comes as the Department of Financial Services works to investigate the shutdown of Health Republic. Congressman Chris Gibson has called for an independent investigation into the closure, while Senator Chuck Schumer has said the state is best equipped to handle the investigation.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli also told us on Capital Tonight this week he’s considering his own investigation into the shutdown.

Read the full letter below:

Regulators Close Health Insurance Co-Op

healthxchangeState regulators on Friday ordered a health-insurance co-op that was part of the state-based insurance exchange in New York to close as it was in danger of becoming insolvent.

In a statement, the Department of Financial Services said the Health Republic Insurance of New York co-op’s closure comes after an increasingly troubled financial situation.

“Given Health Republic’s financial situation, commencing an orderly wind down process before the upcoming open enrollment period is the best course of action to protect consumers,” said Anthony Albanese, the acting superintendent of the Financial Services Department, which oversees and regulates insurers in New York. “Moving forward, we will work closely with New York State of Health and federal regulators to help ensure continuity of coverage for Health Republic’s customers.”

New York’s roll out of the health-care exchanges, part of the federal health-care overhaul aimed at expanding insurance rolls, was conducted relatively smoothly as the uninsured enrolled in various plans.

So far, Health Republic Insurance of New York has 150,000 customers, including 83,000 individuals who enrolled through the state this year. They will now have to find new insurance polices for next year. More >