Health Care

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 >

SCOTUS Upholds Major Obamacare Component

A major part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”, was upheld by the Supreme Court Thursday morning.

In a ruling of 6 – 3, the court ruled in favor of a part of the law that provides subsidies for low and middle-income people to purchase health insurance.

The question surrounding the case of King v. Burwell was mostly in the language of the controversial health law. The Affordable Care Act guarantees subsidies for people who may not be able to afford health insurance on their own.

The wording of the law points specifically to subsidies being provided in states that have set up their own health exchange marketplaces. New York is one of those states.

But more than thirty states did not set up such exchanges, leaving their health care system up to the federal government. The argument was whether residents in those states should also be guaranteed subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

The six justices who ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act said that in this case the context outweighs the plain language of the law. The three dissenting justices said the majority’s reading of the law “is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.”

This is just one of many hurdles the Affordable Care Act has had to pass since it was enacted in 2010. It was also one of two major cases the Supreme Court is handling this year. The other – Obergefell v. Hodges – deals with whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The next opinion day for the court is Friday. Five more opinions are left for the court to rule on. If they do not deliver all five Friday, they will be back Monday for those remaining.

UPDATEDX2: Gottfried Bill Would Speed Up Medical Marijuana Program

A bill that would expedite the state’s medical marijuana program to treat patients suffering from extreme circumstances has been introduced into the state Assembly.

The bill was introduced last week by Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a long-time advocate of medical marijuana in New York State.

This bill would make the treatment available for patients as soon as possible, if their condition is serious enough to merit treatment from the drug.

Gottfried, along with Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, held a hybrid press conference and rally outside the Assembly chamber Tuesday morning.

Besides this law, Gottfried said the Governor could direct the Department of Health to take emergency action to help those who may benefit from medical marijuana. He also said the state’s decades-old Olivieri Law could be used. That law is said to allow hospitals to administer medical marijuana to patients after a medical review.

But even if the law was passed as soon as possible, it’s unclear when the treatment would actually be available to patients requesting it. The drug would either need to be grown in New York, or imported from another medical marijuana approved state. For the latter, the legality is unclear, but Gottfried said he sees no barriers.

“It is still not entirely clear to me that the federal government would prohibit the movement of medical marijuana under state supervision from one legal medical marijuana state to another,” Gottfried said earlier today. “I don’t think the Governor has ever really pressed the federal government to agree to that.”

The bill currently has no sponsor in the Senate, though a similar bill was introduced earlier this session by Senator Bill Larkin. That bill would have established an emergency medical marijuana program for much of the same reason. The same bill was sponsored by Brian Kolb in the Assembly. Neither have moved since they were introduced and referred to their respective health committees.

Senator Diane Savino, who sponsored the initial medical marijuana bill in the Senate, said at the time that she did not support the Larkin bill, citing the Department of Health’s plan for implementation.

“Any deviation from that effort will delay the entire program,” Savino said during an interview.

Update: A representative from Senator Larkin’s office said they’re reviewing the new bill from Assemblyman Gottfried before they decide whether they’ll take it up in the Senate.

Update X2: A spokesman from the Cuomo administration sent a statement to State of Politics reacting to the Gottfried bill Tuesday afternoon.

“Our top priority is to deliver relief to those in pain and we are doing so as expeditiously as possible under current federal guidelines and within the confines of the Compassionate Care Act, which Assemblyman Gottfried sponsored, supported and passed through his own house. Just yesterday, applications for vendors were released per the timeline laid out in that legislation.  The last thing that anyone would want is legal complications to arise from importing marijuana products over state lines without federal approval, or for  unnecessary delays with the implementation of the current program to come as a result of layering a separate process on top of it.”


Stefanik Ad Reiterates ‘Commitment’ To Social Security, Medicare

NY-21 GOP candidate Elise Stefanik is answering the attack ad released earlier today by her Democratic opponent, Aaron Woolf, with an ad of her own on the same issue, reiterating her “commitment protect and preserve Social Security and Medicare programs for our seniors.”

The ad, which stars airing across the district today, repeats Stefanik’s claim that she doesn’t believe those who are “in or near retirement” should see any changes in these benefits. The only problem: The ad doesn’t define what “near retirement” means in Stefanik’s mind – a point that has gotten her into hot water before.

In fact, it was Stefanik’s reluctance to offer any specifics on that key point that led her to walk away from reporters at her own press conference back in August – the very press conference Woolf highlighted in his ad.

In her ad, Stefanik takes a swipe at Woolf (without mentioning him by name, of course), saying: “(M)y opponent has no proposal to modernize these programs so that they exist for my generation and your grandchildren’s.”

Moody’s: Medicaid Waiver A Credit Positive

A report released on Friday by Moody’s Investor Services found the approval of an $8 billion federal Medicaid waiver is a “credit positive” for hospitals.

New York last month received its long-sought Medicaid waiver, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, insisted was needed to aid troubled hospitals.

The state had long argued it was due to receive the waiver due to reforms made by Cuomo’s Medciaid redesign.

From the Moody’s report:

“The approval of the waiver is a credit positive for Moody’s-rated hospitals and health systems within the state of New York. The funds will provide an additional source of revenue for hospitals at a time when they are facing reduced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, lower commercial rate increases, and pressure from all payers to drive down costs and reduce avoidable hospital utilization.”

The waiver is most likely to impact safety-net providers that have successfully met a stated cost reduction and process improvement benchmarks under the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program.

DOH: More Than 865K Enrolled In Health Exchange

With the deadline to enroll in a health insurance plan passed, the state Department of Health says 865,487 New Yorkers have enrolled through the state’s health exchange and 1.2 million have completed applications since Oct. 1.

With that pace, New York is on track to meet or exceed the goal of having 1.1 million registered through the exchange by the end of 2016.

“Year one on the Marketplace has been great success, and we’re thrilled that more than 865,000 New Yorkers have enrolled in quality, low-cost insurance,” said Donna Frescatore, executive director of NY State of Health. “Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to have the peace of mind and security that come with having quality, affordable health insurance. Going forward, we will continue to help individuals, families and small businesses across the state to access the insurance coverage they need.”

According to the Health Department, 39,000 people registered in the marketplace alone before the end of open enrollment for individuals.

Though Monday was the deadline to enroll for individuals and families, the state’s exchange will allow for additional assistance for those who have taken steps to apply for coverage but are yet to complete the enrollment process.

All applications and enrollments in health plans must be completed by April 15.

Nationally, the Obama administration reported nearly 7 million people enrolled.

DOH: More Than 700K Enrolled In Exchange

The state’s health insurance exchange has enrolled 717,207 in coverage since it was launched since Oct. 1, according to numbers provided by the state Department of Health on Monday.

Meanwhile, more than 1 million New Yorkers have completed applications, the DOH reported.

Despite the glitches in the roll out of the health exchange and Obamcare nationally, New York officials have touted the relative success of the state’s system.

New York was named the winner of the 2014 CBC Prize for Public Service Innovation, an award given by the Citizens Budget Commission.

“New York State has distinguished itself by creating NY State of Health, which has excelled while other state Marketplaces and the federally facilitated Marketplace have faltered,” said CBC President Carol Kellermann. “New York’s initiative provides an extraordinary public service through an innovative use of technology and an impressive array of consumer services.”

Senate lawmakers, however, noted problems with out-of-network costs in the health exchange as well as a lack of Spanish-language options that administration officials pledged would be addressed.

After Botched Sign Ups, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield To Offer Free Coverage

The thousands of policyholders who experienced issues with enrolling in Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield through the state’s health insurance exchange will receive three weeks of free coverage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the agreement with the insurance giant Sunday morning, which comes after the state’s top insurance regulator, Department of Financial Services Superintendent Ben Lawsky began a probe into concerns that Empire was mailing ID cards and bills late.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had opened an investigation into complaints of Empire’s coverage last month as well.

“Empire did the right thing by working to address these issues and delivering relief to consumers,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We will continue to work vigilantly to ensure that consumers receive the high standards of care and service that they deserve from their insurance companies.”

As part of the agreement struck with the state, the company also pledged to spend $2 million promoting enrollment in the state’s insurance exchange marketplace, the system devised as part of the roll out of the federal Affordable Care Act.

It is unclear how many consumers were impacted by the problems surrounding Empire’s enrollment.

The Department of Health reported last week that 657,000 New Yorkers have completed applications for insurance while nearly 381,000 have formally enrolled for coverage.