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February 9, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. - Advocates for New York's senior citizens testified Wednesday in favor of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal for a health benefit exchange, but also told state lawmakers they oppose pending cuts to the state's Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Program (EPIC).

Cuomo projects that, once the exchange gets rolling, it will help at least 1 million New Yorkers by saving as much as 66 percent on their health-insurance costs. Bill Ferris, AARP associate state director of advocacy, testified in favor of the proposal at state budget hearings.

"We think it's going to help insure a lot of people who don't have insurance, help small businesses afford health insurance - and we think this language should go through and the Legislature should approve it."

A bill to set up a health benefit exchange made it through the Assembly last year, but was blocked by the state Senate, where some opposed the concept. Federal law now requires every state to establish a health exchange, and Ferris says New York risks losing federal funding if it does not get started.

Ferris also spoke about funding cuts to EPIC, the state plan that provides prescription drug coverage for older New Yorkers. Ferris says Cuomo's budget leaves nearly 300,000 older New Yorkers at risk for hefty co-pays at the drug counter.

"They are now subject to pay 25 percent of the cost of their drugs, and we've heard that some seniors are paying as high as a $600 co-pay for cancer-related drugs.That shouldn't be, here in New York state."

AARP volunteer Neal Lane says older New Yorkers are looking for a system on which they can rely to allow them to live independent, healthy lives.

"It's critically important that frail older New Yorkers have access to a consumer-centric long-term care system that emphasizes home and community-based care supports - and lessens the need for nursing home care."

Lawmakers face an April 1 deadline to act on the budget.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY