Picente Joined by Local, Statewide Officials Calling For Action to Reform Medicaid Burden

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr., was joined today by the region’s state senators, local and statewide county leaders and the sponsors of an important piece of legislation that would shift the burden of Medicaid off of county property taxpayers once and for all. Specifically, they are calling for passage of Senate bill 5889, sponsored by Sens. Roy McDonald (R-Saratoga) and Patrick Gallivan (R-Erie). An Assembly companion bill, A 8644, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Westchester).

The bill provides for an 8-year gradual State takeover of the full financial costs of Medicaid, which are currently financed at the local level through property taxes.

The new legislation takes advantage of savings from the Medicaid spending cap provision enacted in this year’s State Budget to help finance the takeover. Additionally, the timing in the bill is aligned with the federal Affordable Care Act, which provides an historic opportunity for the State to restructure Medicaid in a way that standardizes services, reduces costs and improves patient outcome.

“Counties are caught between the need to keep taxes from rising and the uncontrolled growth of the massive Medicaid program,” Picente said. “As long as the mandated costs of Medicaid are funded through the property tax, county residents are forced to have limits imposed on services and programs that are of vital local importance. The solution to the problem is very simple: reduce and reform mandates, starting with the biggest cost out there – Medicaid. I commend our state legislators for supporting this step, and I urge them to make this their number one priority in next year’s legislative session so that we can complete the historic changes that were begun this year with the tax cap legislation.”

State Senator Joseph A. Griffo said: “The problem with Medicaid is not just moving the costs around, but reforming the system to contain those costs. I believe that with the state alone responsible for footing the bill, there is a stronger incentive to find economies that we can pursue. I also believe that we should allow local governments the flexibility to pursue new ideas and develop innovative programs by supporting their efforts so we can find ways to deliver services better and cheaper.”

State Senator James L. Seward said: “After working for years to convert the masses in Albany, a property tax cap is finally in place.  The cap is a major milestone but it needs to be linked to substantial mandate relief for local governments – a step we can take by exorcising the biggest mandate demon – Medicaid.  Along with freeing up local resources, a  phased-in state takeover will also lead to improved fraud control and help streamline a program that costs New York over a billion dollars a week.”

State Senator David Valesky said, “Medicaid is one of the largest cost drivers for counties, and constantly rising costs are making it impossible for administrators and executives to contain property tax rates. By following the lead of most other states, and moving the administration of Medicaid to the state, we can ease a great deal of pressure. But this must be a two-pronged solution; we need to continue to find ways to maximize efficiencies within the Medicaid program structure.”

"Unfunded state mandates like Medicaid have been a burden on local municipalities and taxpayers for too long," said Assemblyman Anthony J. Brindisi. "The state should take over all Medicaid costs and additionally, we should review existing mandates to see which ones are working, which ones need to be revised and which ones counties and municipal governments should be able to opt out of. Albany needs to stop passing the buck - our families and our municipal governments simply can't afford it any longer."

Herkimer County Administrator James Wallace said: “County governments are among the leanest of any level of governments, because we have managed for years with the need to hold down taxes while providing mandated services. What counties have been saying to Albany is that the tax cap is a very livable idea once we take Medicaid out of the picture. I’m glad to see some of our legislators have been listening and I hope that momentum to support this legislation continues to grow.”

Madison County Board Chairman John Becker said: “We all recognize the unfair structure of Medicaid. Instead of the taxpayers with the least resources footing the bill, the bill now funded by counties belongs spread over the larger statewide tax base. The tax cap has brought new light to this long-standing unfair situation, and I believe that this is the time to reform the system into a partnership both sides can live with.”

Stephen Acquario, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties said: “Mandate relief is property tax relief. As counties release our 2012 budgets, nothing could be more important than the introduction and passage of this important legislation. I’d like to thank Senators Valesky, Seward and Griffo along with Assemblyman Magee and Assemblyman Brindisi for championing this measure in the New York State Legislature.”

The proposal initially freezes local Medicaid costs, providing $180 million in immediate local savings by eliminating the automatic three percent annual spending increase currently required by statute. Starting in the third quarter of 2012, the local share would then be reduced by five percent. Between 2012 and 2019, local Medicaid costs will continue to be gradually reduced as the state assumes an increasing share of the burden. The end result would completely eliminate Medicaid costs from county budgets, providing municipal governments with the flexibility to substantially reduce local property taxes.