While much of the health-care industry is attacking Governor Hochul’s Medicaid budget, at least one organization is rallying to her side: Somos Community Care, a politically active medical group in the Bronx that recently received an unusual $29 million grant from the Health Department.

Under the banner of “NY Communities for Care,” Somos is encouraging public support for Hochul and her health-care policies through internet advertising and a website.

The website credits Hochul’s budget for proposing to eliminate insurance copayments for insulin, expanding paid leave for expectant mothers and securing $6 billion in additional federal aid through a Medicaid waiver.

“Governor Hochul has our backs,” the website says. “And we’ve got hers too.”

Somos is a network of physicians, clinics and other health providers in the Bronx that organized as a “performing provider system” under a Medicaid reform program during the Cuomo administration. As part of that program, it received $607 million in Medicaid grants from 2014 to 2020.

During those years, Somos executives, physicians and consultants donated regularly to then-Governor Cuomo and other Albany politicians. Their giving ramped up during the 2022 election cycle, including contributions of more than $400,000 to Hochul and her running-mate, Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, and another $150,000 to the state Democratic Party.

One of Somos’ top leaders, Henry Muñoz, also helped Hochul organize a Latino-oriented get-out-the-vote drive called the Nueva York initiative. 

Muñoz, a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, collected $51 million in consulting fees from Somos from 2018 through 2022, both personally and through his firm, MSTZO LLC. Reporting by the Daily Beast has raised questions about the nature of Muñoz’s work for Somos, noting that he “has no medical degree and possessed no experience in health administration at the time he joined the group.”

In 2022, the Hochul administration awarded Somos a $29 million grant from the Health Department’s Vital Access Provider Assurance Program, or VAPAP – Medicaid funding that was previously reserved for financially distressed hospitals and nursing homes.

In her budget proposals for fiscal years 2023 and 2024, Hochul proposed technical changes to VAPAP which made it possible for groups like Somos to apply. The changes were evidently made with Somos in mind: An internal summary of VAPAP funding in the 2023 budget, obtained by the Empire Center under the Freedom of Information Law, showed a $29 million allocation for “Somos VAPAP.”

No mention of NY Communities for Care has yet appeared in Somos’ posted filings with the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government. In addition to establishing a website, NY Communities for Care has sponsored messages temporarily attached to articles circulated by Politico New York.

So far, the effort appears much smaller-scale than some of the recent anti-Hochul campaigns – sponsored by hospitals, health-care unions and nursing homes – which have collectively spent millions on TV ads, direct mail and telemarketing.

 


  

 

About the Author

Bill Hammond

As the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, Bill Hammond tracks fast-moving developments in New York’s massive health care industry, with a focus on how decisions made in Albany and Washington affect the well-being of patients, providers, taxpayers and the state’s economy.

Read more by Bill Hammond

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