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Collins pushing for opt-out legislation, receives support from state legislators

by jmaloni
Mon, Jan 31st 2011 04:00 pm

Local members of the New York State Legislature have joined Erie County Executive Chris Collins to support legislation that would give local governments some control over Medicaid spending.

Collins is calling on Albany to pass legislation that would allow county governments, through local law, to opt-out of non-mandated Medicaid services. Nearly every dime Erie County collects in property tax goes directly to New York state to pay for Medicaid services. Collins says opt-out legislation would reduce county property taxes by as much as 40 percent.

"Currently, the Medicaid system is a one-size-fits-all approach and it is unsustainable and unfair to taxpayers," said Collins. "This legislative solution is not one-size-fits-all, and instead, allows local governments to tailor a program to fit the needs of their residents and balance that with the ability of their taxpayers to foot the bill. County governments are drowning in Medicaid costs. The least New York state can do is allow these same governments to build their own life raft."

State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer has sponsored opt-out legislation in previous years and has recently reintroduced the legislation (S1813 2011). There is also a companion bill in the New York State Assembly (A2285 2011).

"With all the state-required Medicaid options, Erie County is forced to spend almost all of its property tax dollars on Medicaid," said Ranzenhofer. "The county's share of Medicaid costs is like Pacman eating everything in sight. I have re-introduced legislation in the State Senate to grant counties the option to opt-out of state-required but not federally-required Medicaid services. Under the proposal, counties would decide which Medicaid programs are affordable to the taxpayer and needed to best serve residents."

Assembly members Jane Corwin, Jim Hayes and Kevin Smardz also support opt-out legislation.

"I am proud to join County Executive Collins and my colleagues in state government to support this responsible reform of the Medicaid system in New York state," said Corwin. "For too long, county governments and taxpayers have been forced to subsidize billions of dollars in costly Medicaid services and other mandates handed down from Albany. This legislation provides local governments with the opportunity to curtail a portion of the Medicaid services they provide and make fiscally responsible decisions that are accountable to taxpayers."

"Allowing counties to determine which Medicaid optional services they can afford has the potential for billions of dollars in savings to local property taxpayers in Western New York and throughout the state," Hayes said. "The opt-out provision is an important step toward rolling back a costly state mandate that property taxpayers cannot afford."

"Taxpayers across Western New York are looking for real property tax relief," Smardz said. Local costs of Medicaid account for an unsustainable portion of county property taxes and structural reforms are needed if we are to begin easing that burden. The opt-out proposal of non-mandated services being advocated here today by County Executive Collins and my colleagues in the Western New York delegation provide us that opportunity."

New York is one of a handful of states that passes a share of its Medicaid burden to local governments and taxpayers. According to the county executive's office, in Erie County, the 2010 local share of Medicaid was approximately $201 million; by comparison, Erie County's property tax levy in 2010 was $211 million. Nearly 96 percent of the county's entire property tax levy went to pay for Medicaid costs. In addition, Erie County's Medicaid tab will increase by $6 million in 2011. The entire Medicaid program cost for Erie County alone is more than $1.4 billion, including local, state and federal share, or nearly $1,500 for every man, woman and child in Erie County. New York provides all but two of the federal Medicaid options. In total, these optional services cost Erie County taxpayers alone an additional $250 million in state and local Medicaid share payments.

"Reforming Medicaid has proven incredibly difficult, in large part, because it is nearly impossible to get all the diverse, but necessary parties to agree on statewide reforms," continued Collins. "This legislative proposal is an easier lift in Albany. And in addition to providing significant local property tax relief, will also save the state and federal governments millions of dollars in Erie County alone."

Examples of Medicaid services not mandated by the federal government, but provided in New York state, include: private duty nursing; eyeglasses; optometrist services; physical, speech and occupation therapy; dentures and hearing aids.

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