In Depth: NY Republicans shifting Medicaid Costs

It's being called the "Buffalo Bribe"

March 22, 2017 - 6:55 am

WASHINGTON (WBEN/AP) -- Desperate to lock down votes for their health care overhaul, House Republican leaders are seeking to shift more than $2 billion in Medicaid costs from upstate New York counties to the state government - a proposal Democrats quickly labeled the "Buffalo Bribe" and the "Knickerbocker kickback."

The provision would help mostly Republican-controlled counties around the state that have struggled to subsidize health care for the poor under the federal-state program that provides coverage for millions of Americans. New York City, run by Democrats, wouldn't get the same relief.

Several New York state Republicans have expressed doubts or outright opposition to the GOP bill that repeals major parts of the Obama health law, caps future funding for Medicaid and cuts taxes on the wealthy and insurance companies.

For some, the proposal evoked memories of the "Cornhusker Kickback," a Medicaid sweetener added to the Democratic health care bill in 2009 to secure support from then-Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Republicans slammed the Nebraska proposal as a backroom deal, a charge that Democrats hurled back at them eight years later.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., called the GOP plan "a political sleight of hand" that seeks to buy GOP votes - and pay for tax cuts for the wealthy - at the expense of New Yorkers.

The proposal would stop local governments in New York from paying a portion of the state's Medicaid charges. The proposal would only apply to about $2.3 billion spent by counties outside New York City. The change was co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., an early Trump supporter whose district is in western New York.

"This amendment will stop Albany from forcing its unfunded mandate down the throats of taxpayers, and help counties lower the property tax burden on hardworking families," Collins said.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said congressional Republicans "declared war on New York," jeopardizing health care for hundreds of thousands of people.

"The more we learn about the repeal and replacement for the Affordable Care Act, the sicker New York gets," Cuomo said, adding that the GOP proposal would devastate the majority of hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in upstate New York and on Long Island.

Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., said local governments in her largely rural district have long struggled to pay Medicaid subsidies. In Oneida County, near Syracuse, officials have been forced to divert more than 80 percent of property taxes for Medicaid, she said.

Under the GOP proposal, "county governments will now have some breathing room to assist our local schools and community colleges, improve local roads and support safety and security initiatives desperately needed by first responders," Tenney said.

The GOP proposal did not immediately persuade reluctant Republicans.

Rep. John Katko, who represents the Syracuse area, said he still opposes the bill, while Rep. Dan Donovan, who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn in New York City, said he won't announce his decision until Thursday.

"I had other concerns (about the GOP bill), but it certainly doesn't help the people I represent," Donovan said of the proposed Medicaid changes.

Collins said the New York measure differs from the Nebraska plan pushed by Democrats, because those efforts were designed to steer more federal funding to Nebraska. The GOP amendment does not ask federal taxpayers to send more money to his state, Collins said - "not a penny."

New York spends more for Medicaid recipients than other states and should have no trouble finding savings in the program, Collins said. "I could go in in one afternoon and find the $2.3 billion of bloat," he said.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, said the Republican proposal "just rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic" without helping seniors or the poor.

"We want to help people, not get into an intra-governmental fight," said the New York lawmaker.

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