The New York State Legislature will be holding a hearing Thursday on the governor’s health care budget proposals.
This will be the first time lawmakers will be able to question state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker since August, and a lot of the focus will be on the state’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic left a strain on the state’s health care system and some of these areas have been overlooked in the past.
Bill Hammond, a health policy researcher at the Empire Center, a conservative think tank, says public health has been seeing cuts in the state budget for years.
“I think the trend is pretty clear that the state has been disinvesting in its public health infrastructure,” Hammond said.
Public health tools are what help states plan for pandemics, testing, contact tracing, and disease surveillance.
According to Hammond, the state has allowed its public health infrastructure to shrink for years, leading up to the country’s worst public health crisis in a century.
For example, the Wadsworth Center, which created a new coronavirus diagnostic test last year when the federal government’s test kits didn’t work, could be seeing a decrease of 38% of its funding from the state under the governor’s proposal.
“To think of health care as something that hospitals and doctors do…there is this whole other part of it,” Hammond explained. “And in the situation of a pandemic, the actions of the public health side can make more of a difference in terms of saving lives than the doctors and hospitals could ever hope to do.”
Medicaid, on the other hand, could be seeing an increase in funding by $3.7 billion, or 4.7 percent, once federal funding is factored in.
However, Bea Grause, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of New York State, says hospitals across the board are facing a 1% cut in funding under the governor’s budget proposal.
“Most of our hospitals lost 25%-30% of their overall projected revenue from the pandemic because they had to cancel elective surgeries,” Grause explained. “And then the prices of everything from masks to gloves and everything else skyrocketed.”
Although the state is facing a massive budget deficit, Grause says it is not the time to be cutting funding to health care.
“Our hospitals came through for our communities and we think that the state needs to do no harm financially to hospitals that are continuing to come through for our communities,” Grause said.
The healthcare association will also be pushing to make permanent many of the governor’s executive orders when it comes to expanding telehealth access.