Throttling spending in the state’s Medicaid program is being questioned by the top Democrat in the state Senate, who said in an interview on Tuesday the state’s hospitals were already being asked to shoulder the heavy burden of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re asking out hospitals and supportive services to do much more, to increase capacity from 50 to 100 percent,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “We’re asking a lot from hospitals and caregivers, for all of our sake. So we want to make sure we are supportive of those efforts in everywhere.”

Prior to the pandemic capturing headlines and eventually upending daily life in New York and the United States, the state’s Medicaid program was a focal point for the state budget.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo convened a commission of hospital official and health care union representatives to assess ways of slowing spending amid a multi-billion dollar budget gap in the program. The commission ultimately recommended $400 million in hospital spending savings.

But this month, usually reserved for state budget talks in Albany, the coronavirus pandemic hit in the state.

Stewart-Cousins said those proposals and the creation of the Medicaid commission “was from a different world.”

“Now we have to look at everything very, very closely,” she said.

She added the state should be looking for ways to “strengthen our system and not in any ways of undercutting it.”

Cuomo on Tuesday announced new projections will require as many as 140,000 hospital beds to meet the expected crush of patients. The state has ordered hospitals to expand their capacity by at least 50 percent and the governor wants them to set the goal of doubling bed space.

The budget, meanwhile, is expected date in about a week and it’s likely the Legislature and Cuomo will carry those discussion to the March 31 due date.

“I think there will certainly be a budget by our deadline,” Stewart-Cousins said. 

Lawmakers and Cuomo agree, though, that federal intervention will be needed, most likely billions of dollars in bailed out aid.

New York operates one of the costliest Medicaid programs in the country, and health care overall makes up the largest share of the state budget each year.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has railed against a proposal inserted in a federal coronavirus relief bill that would prohibit cost shifting in the Medicaid program to local governments — a provision that would hamstring budget efforts in Albany.

Odds and Ends

  • Stewart-Cousins left the door open to changing the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 23 — a proposal several lawmakers have embraced.
    “We’ll obviously take a look at what the future may bring, but it’s certainly not out of the question,” she said.
  • Could lawmakers vote remotely? It’s being looked at, Stewart-Cousins said.
    “I think this time has made clear we have to examine in every aspect of our lives new ways of doing things,” Stewart-Cousins. “I don’t know if we ever have to do it, but I want to prepared.”
  • The conventional wisdom is the Legislature will wrap up work on the budget — whatever shape that spending plan takes — and leave Albany for the rest of the year. The session was scheduled to end in early June. But Stewart-Cousins did not rule out lawmakers coming back for a post-budget session.
    “It’s my hope we’ll be able to come back and conduct business as usual,” she said. “Whatever happens we want to be able to conduct business.”