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Senate Medicaid Rebellion Called Good Medicine for NY's Underserved Patients

April 29, 2008

Albany, NY - The full Senate is set for a fast-track vote as early as this week on an effort to roll back the Bush administration's recent restrictions on Medicaid funding. The House enacted a similar moratorium last week.

Karen Schimke with the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy hopes the efforts in Congress succeed because she's worried about the impact of the White House restrictions.

"Children would be very much hurt, and so would people with disabilities. Those populations receive most of the services under this part of Medicaid. And that is in a time of very serious economic downturn and recession, so the economic impact on states is horrendous."

The White House says it will veto the Medicaid rule reversal after the Senate votes. The administration says states are abusing federal funding, and the restrictions would help put a stop to that. The restrictions would affect New York State to the tune of $1.5 billion annually.

Schimke says a Medicaid shortfall would hurt New York's effort to provide doctor training and guaranteed medical services in the state's rural and underserved districts.

"We in New York State are putting forth a program called 'Doctors Across New York' to increase the number of primary care doctors in sparsely populated areas. We also have a crisis in the availability of child psychiatrists. But the federal government is pretty determined not to be a part of it."

Congressional leaders say they have a shot at overriding a potential veto. Schimke says the delegation in Washington is standing up for New Yorkers.

"The entire New York delegation is opposing the freeze that President Bush and the Department of Health and Human Services would put on this. In our opinion, the New York delegation is very much hanging together and in the right place."

One of every four New Yorkers lives in a medically underserved area, and the Health Department says more than 300 primary care physicians are needed there. Schimke says Medicaid cuts would limit the state's efforts to forgive medical school loans for doctors who commit to live and work in those areas.

Robert Knight/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY