Albany

DOH Moves To Require More Documentation In Vaccine Exemptions

From the Morning Memo:

Emergency regulations issued late last week by the state Department of Health will require doctors to provide more documentation, including specific justifications, for when children are given exemptions for vaccinations.

The move comes as children next month are returning to school and amid a measles outbreak this year, with more than 1,000 cases — mostly in Rockland County and Brooklyn.

State lawmakers in June approved a measure ending the religious exemption for vaccinations, a law that’s being challenged in state court.

The regulation announced Friday by the Department of Health and the Office of Children and Family Services will require the justification for the exemption of each require vaccination in order for it to be granted.

Physicians were previously only required to submit a statement to schools without specific documentation with stating specifically why immunization would be detrimental to a child’s health.

The new regulation will apply to children statewide. Medical exemptions from vaccinations would still have to be re-issued annually.

“These regulations will ensure that those who have legitimate medical reasons for not getting vaccinated are still able to obtain medical exemptions, while also preventing abuse of this option by those without such medical conditions,” said Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

“Immunizations are safe and effective and give children the best protection from serious childhood diseases. We will continue to do everything possible to promote public health for all New Yorkers, especially our children.”

The regulation is the latest sign state officials are taking an increasingly active approach in counteracting an anti-vaccination movement amid the measles outbreak this year.

The Department of Health previously launched two public service ads, one featuring Zucker, reassuring parents that vaccines are safe and necessary for children.

Public health officials broadly agree that healthy people should receive vaccinations in order to create herd immunity.

DOH Seeks Medicaid Coverage Approval For People Being Released By Jails, Prisons

State officials are beginning the process to apply for a Medicaid waiver in order to provide health care services to inmates about to be released from county jails and state prisons.

If approved, the services would begin a month before an inmate is released and would cover health conditions, including serious mental illnesses, HIV/AIDS, or opioid use disorder or multiple chronic physical or behavioral health conditions.

“For incarcerated individuals leaving prisons and jails, it is critical that they receive the healthcare services they need for a seamless transition to life outside the correctional facility,” said Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. “Ensuring continuous healthcare coverage for criminal justice involved populations with serious health conditions will make our communities both healthier and safer.”

The public comment period of the waiver application to the U.S. Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services began on Wednesday. The proposal was initially contained in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 State of the State announcement.

Services provided if the waiver is approved would include Medicaid-covered benefits like care management, referals and appointments with health providers and linkages to social services and peer supports. In addition, a medication management plan and higher priority medications for chronic conditions.

For criminal justice reform supporters, providing health care services while an inmate is in the process of transitioning to leaving a jail or prison facility and provide them with “bridging care.”

“Approval of this Medicaid waiver would provide incarcerated individuals returning home from prison with a continuity of health care, breaking down a significant barrier to a successful reentry and helping to keep our communities healthy and safe.,” said Acting Corrections and Community Supervision Commissioner Anthony Annucci.

The DOH pointed to people who have been in prison and jail populations having higher rates of visits to emergency rooms and hospitals, saying it would offset any increase in Medicaid spending by reductions in the use of those services.

One in 70 people are hospitalized a week after they are released from a prison or jail, according to the National Institute of Health, while one in 12 people are hospitalized within three months — far higher rates than the average population.

Anti-Vaccine Protesters Converge In Albany As Court Challenge Continues

A challenge to a new state law ending the religious exemptions for vaccinations was heard in an Albany County court today, and anti-vaccine protesters were a visible presence.

Wearing white clothes and with their children in tow, more than a thousand people lined the block around the Albany County Courthouse Wednesday to hear the opening arguments in a case challenging New York’s end to the religious exemption for vaccinations. Jackie Herig traveled from Long Island to attend.

“I’m very hopeful,” Herig said during a demonstration outside of the governor’s office on the second floor of the Capitol. “We have Jesus on our side. So, there’s two things man can’t mess with. Mother nature and God. This is going to be one of those moments where we prevail.”

Others, like John Jackson, said his family would leave the state if the law remains in place.

“I would 100 percent move,” Jackson said. “We relocated here about a year and a half ago for work for my wife’s job. We would leave.”

The case is being argued by longtime legal activist Michael Sussman and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a prominent anti-vaccine advocate. In court, they argued that with the school year starting, parents who oppose vaccinations for their kids won’t be able to send them to school next month. Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz was skeptical of the argument.

“This was always about health,” Dinowitz said in an interview. “It’s never been about religion. And I would go further and say that for some people who claim the religious exemption, it’s not about that either. It’s about not getting their child vaccinated.”

Dinowitz was the lead sponsor of the legislation, which narrowly passed in the Assembly in May amid a measles outbreak in Brooklyn and Rockland County. He expects the law will be upheld.

“The exact same legislation in California was upheld,” Dinowitz said. “The courts have ruled consistently in favor of legislation like this because public health has to take precedents over other considerations.”

And despite the crowd converging in Albany, a Siena College poll has shown a different story: 84 percent of voters support ending religious exemptions for vaccinations.

Public health experts say vaccines are necessary for healthy people to create herd immunity.

Trailblazers PAC Grows

From the Morning Memo:

A local-level political action committee this summer is expanding, hiring an executive director to bolster its previously all-volunteer staff.

The group Trailblazers PAC in July hired Alexandria Woodard as its executive director. The group was founded by Leslie Danks Burke, a former Democratic state Senate and congressional candidate.

“Now in our third year, we’re thrilled at how Trailblazers PAC has grown to address honest government at the county and municipal-level across the country,” Danks Burke said.

“We know that Alli’s leadership will help Trailblazers reach even more of the terrific number of people and groups working to end corruption in our democratic republic.”

The group’s expansion comes as Reclaim New York, a political advocacy organization funded by conservative investor Robert Mercer, announced last month it would scale back its staff and operations in the state.

“I am incredibly excited for this opportunity to use my academic and professional expertise to make a lasting change in local politics,” Woodard said. “I stand behind the mission of Trailblazers PAC, and it is an honor to work for an organization whose values align with my own.”

More Than 128,000 New Yorkers Use Paid Leave Benefit Last Year

More than 128,000 workers were able to access paid family leave benefits as the state’s new program took effect in 2018, according to a report released Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

The governor’s office found New York had the highest overall participation rate for paid family leave, the highest percentage of men who used it and the highest percentage of workers who took the benefit cared for a family member with a serious health condition.

The paid family leave program extended coverage to more than two million workers who did not have it under the existing federal Family & Medical Leave Act.

“New York enacted the nation’s strongest paid family leave law so that no one has to choose between losing a job and missing the birth of a child or caring for a sick family member,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“In the first year we are already seeing incredible results – tens of thousands of employees utilized this important benefit and millions more have access to job-protected, paid time off. This initial success demonstrates once again our commitment to not only enacting progressive policies, but also to achieving real long-term results.”

Most workers who took paid family leave in its first year made less than $60,000. The group filing for the most claims made less than $40,000.

The law will continue to phase in by 2021, when workers can be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave benefits at 67 percent of their average weekly wage and capped at 67 percent of the state average weekly wage.

A One-Year Look Back Window Is Opening For The Child Victims Act

Survivor advocacy groups and law firms on Tuesday are making a concerted push to raise awareness of the one-year look back period opening this week for victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits.

The 12-month window begins on Wednesday to file lawsuits.

The group Safe Horizons on Tuesday unveiled a public awareness campaign with a digital billboard and video, which features state lawmakers who are also abuse survivors: Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, Assemblywomn Yuh-Line Niou, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz and Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte.

“The Child Victims Act and the opening of its lookback window provides a monumental win for survivors of childhood sexual abuse who now have the opportunity to seek justice in their own way,” said Ariel Zwang, the CEO of Safe Horizon. “We want survivors to know their options and are proud to help them determine what is best for them.”

Law firms this week plan to announce lawsuits that are being filed by abuse survivors, with some expected to filed against major institutions including the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America.

One firm, Jeff Anderson & Associates, plans to announce the filing of more than 200 lawsuits under the law by people who were sexually abused by clergy members.

“This is a momentous time for courageous survivors who have waited so long for justice in New York,” Anderson said. “They now have an opportunity to take back power stolen from them when they were kids and start to heal.”

Adirondack Council Wants To Tackle Overuse Of Trails

The Adirondack Council is backing an effort to tackle overuse of the park’s popular high peaks hiking trails through new planning projects, better funding and a pilot program for permits.

The ideas were discussed at a forum held by the Department of Environmental Conservation amid concerns about the use of the hiking trails in the Adirondacks, including the central portion of the High Peaks Wilderness Area.

“Clear consensus emerged on the need for a comprehensive plan, the money to carry out the plan and a pilot program for permits,” said Julia Goren, Adirondack Vision Project Director for the Adirondack Council.

“A comprehensive plan is needed to address each of the challenges, goals, and strategies in a holistic manner. Planning was identified as a vital need in every topic discussed. Planning takes money, which was also at the top of stakeholder requests. Money has been in short supply for trail improvements or even basic maintenance. By far, the most popular single tool identified by the participants was a pilot program for permits.”

The state in recent years has sought to bring more tourists and travel to the Adirondack Park, promoting upstate attractions like the mountains in an advertising campaign. But the influx of hikers and tourists to the region have also led to overuse of the trails.

It’s a balance, however, for a region that is among the poorest and oldest in the state, and depends heavily on tourism, as well as the use of natural resources.

The Adirondack Council most recently found 130 miles of high peak trails that are in need of maintenance and reconstruction.

Lawmaker Criticizes JCOPE’s Investigation Of Rape Survivor’s Lobbying Effort

From the Morning Memo:

Assemblyman Charles Lavine this week criticized the Joint Commission on Public Ethics’s pursuit of a case against a rape survivor and advocate of the Child Victims Act, writing in a letter that the effort to have her register to lobby is misguided.

“This is not the kind of investigative action I intended to be pursued when I voted for the bill that was enacted into law establishing JCOPE,” Lavine, a former chairman of the Assembly Ethics Committee, wrote in the letter.

Lavine, a Long Island Democrat, added he’s concerned the investigation “ventures too far afield.”

Spectrum News, as well as the Times Union and The New York Times, reported last month JCOPE’s effort to have Kat Sullivan register to lobby over the last year — a contention she is challenging.

Sullivan, a rape survivor, paid for billboards and a plane to fly a banner over the Capitol to highlight the measure, which makes it easier for sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits.

Failing to register to lobby could result in a minimum fine of $25,000.

JCOPE’s investigations are meant to be content neutral and the lobbying enforcement agency seeks cases regardless of the issue advocacy or person. But in a phone interview on Wednesday, Lavine did not rule out seeking changes to the lobbying law as a result of the investigation against Sullivan.

“It troubled me greatly that someone who has gone through what Ms. Sullivan has gone through now has to contend with the actions of a state agency,” Lavine said in the interview.

Sullivan on Wednesday told Spectrum News the Lavine letter gave her some hope the issue could be resolved, but she said more officials should take notice.

“I need for other people to do the right thing and contact JCOPE and let them know how this feels for them as an observer of watching a victim be revictimized by a system that victimized them in the first place,” Sullivan said.

JCOPEAug19(1) by Nick Reisman on Scribd

James’s Priorities Addressed By Legislature, But She Says More Work Is Left To Do

From the Morning Memo:

Attorney General Letitia James counts her first year in office as a success, racking up legislative victories for bills her office sought that limit the president’s pardon power, tighten regulations for data breaches and safeguards to prevent discrimination against immigrants in the workplace.

But when state lawmakers return next year, James hopes the productive 2019 session for Albany could be eclipsed by even more legislative action.

In an interview with Spectrum News, James said she was disappointed lawmakers could not reach a deal on marijuana legalization and a measure that would have legalized gestational surrogacy.

And she wants more action on criminal justice law changes, such as curtailing the use of solitary confinement and detaining parolees for technical violations.

More work is also needed, she said, to help those with mental illnesses.

“Mental illness should not be a crime and it’s critically important that we provide more resources to those suffering from mental illness,” she said.

Democrats gained control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade after last November’s elections. Along with a large majority in the Assembly, Democrats were able to see through the passage of long-stalled legislation that had been on the to-do list of liberals and progressives for years.

“It was, one, helpful to have Democrats in charge of both houses and, two, critically important the relationship that we have with both houses obviously helps the process and move things along quickly and more efficiently,” James said.

The full interview can be found here.

Where The Single-Payer Debate Could Turn Next Year

Last night’s Democratic presidential debate offered perhaps the clearest distillation yet among the candidates seeking the party’s nomination as to where they stand on a push for expanding health care coverage to all Americans.

And that conversation could be held again tonight when the 10 other candidates — including New Yorkers Kirsten Gillibrand and Bill de Blasio — take the stage.

The conversation was illuminating given how it was a condensed version of the overall debate among Democrats over where health care policy should be directed: Incrementally build on the Affordable Care Act? Provide a “public option” that would compete with private insurers? Or, end private health care all together and create a single-payer system?

In New York, the policy outcome has been on part one: Bolstering and protecting the ACA, also known as Obamacare, by codifying the health care exchange and other provisions should the national law be repealed by Congress or challenged successfully in the courts.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not embraced the New York Health Act, a single-payer bill backed by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and Sen. Gustavo Rivera. He been supportive of single payer on the national level, but instead has sought to focus on the Affordable Care Act’s status in New York.

During the 2019 session, which saw bill after bill long sought by progressives become law, the New York Health Act remained in committee and a matter of debate. By last count, the measure has 30 Democrats signed on for sponsorship in the 63-member state Senate.

Moderate Democrats from Long Island like Sens. Todd Kaminsky, John Brooks, Anna Kaplan and Monica Martinez — all of whom represent historically GOP-held seats — have not signed on to the bill.

Nevertheless, lawmakers in support of the legislation continue to push for it. In a Daily News op/ed this week reflecting on the anniversary of the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi reflected on New York’s own debate.

“New York will lead the nation when we pass the NYHA, so it is important that we get this right,” she wrote. “With the leadership of state Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, I am confident that we can build a sustainable and realistic plan to pay for and implement the bill and advance it next session.”

Roadblocks and sticking points, of course, remain. As raised in the Democratic debate, labor unions, which remain strong in the state as their membership has fallen elsewhere, would have to reconcile the measure with their collectively bargained health insurance.

Much could very well depend on who the nominee for the Democratic Party is in 2020, especially if they have sewn up the nomination by the middle portion of the legislative session while it is underway in Albany.

A moderate voice for the party — someone in the mold of former Vice President Joe Biden — could shift the conversation elsewhere. But a Medicaid-for-all or single-payer supporter could advance things even further.