A health-care commission that is supposed to be helping the state control soaring Medicaid costs – which Governor Hochul promised in January and described as “under way” last month – appears not to exist.

Three weeks after receiving a Freedom of Information request from the Empire Center, the office said it could not provide a list of commission members or meeting dates – seemingly confirming that the panel has yet to be appointed.

“The New York State Executive Chamber has conducted a diligent search of available records and did not locate records responsive to your request,” the chamber’s records access office said in an email.

The delay in establishing the panel raises doubt about how much work it can get done before the governor submits her annual budget proposal, which is due in January.

The lack of progress is also hard to square with the governor’s comments at a news conference in September, when she said she was relying on the panel to help resolve a looming budget crisis and that the effort had “already started”:

We have an approach which is under way – we’ve already started. …

It’s looking at the future of health care in New York. We’ve brought together brilliant people from all over the country who are convening to advise us on a path forward. Many of them are experts in Medicaid – so that is our No. 1 driver of costs – and how we can focus on doing things smarter with cuts, consolidation, whatever has to happen. …

We listen to a lot of people in New York. But sometimes it’s good to go to a 10,000-foot level, for someone to come in and see exactly what New York is doing and say, ‘That’s a good idea. That doesn’t work. That’s not sustainable.’

So I’m looking forward to getting the benefit of their expertise.

Hochul said the effort was being managed by her director of operations, Kathryn Garcia, who gave her own summary of the commission’s task:

You may remember that the governor put the Commission for the Future of Health Care in her State of the State [in January].

We have spent much of this time gathering the preliminary data that they will need to make any recommendations.

We don’t do it from the premise of ‘How much is this? How much is that?’ But: ‘What are we getting? What are the health-care outcomes for the people of New York? Are they healthier as we move forward?’

And that is the real driver of what we’re looking at.

Neither Hochul nor Garcia clarified that the experts had not yet been appointed nor held their first meeting.

Hochul first proposed creating a “Commission on the Future of Health Care” in the book version of her annual “State of the State” message to the Legislature. It was to be given a broad agenda “to improve access and quality of care, health outcomes, root out waste in the system, and create long-term stability, including a plan for struggling hospitals.”

Hochul did not mention the proposal in her speech to the Legislature, allocate money for it in her budget or follow up with an announcement about its members or schedule, making it seem as if the plan might have been dropped.

In June, however, the idea reappeared in the Enacted Budget Financial Plan, which warned that Medicaid expenses were likely to exceed a statutory cap on growth. “The Governor’s healthcare commission will examine and recommend reforms to improve quality and reduce costs,” the plan said, giving no further detail.

The same commitment was made in July’s Annual Information Statement, a summary of the state’s financial condition aimed at investors who hold state-issued bonds.

Despite these public statements – and Hochul’s and Garcia’s comments in September – the governor’s records access office initially said it would need as long as a month to answer the Empire Center’s request for a membership list.

The Empire Center filed an appeal challenging that delay as unreasonable. The response acknowledging the absence of records arrived today, which was the deadline for answering the appeal.

With or without the commission’s help, Hochul still needs a plan for reining in Medicaid spending. As of September, halfway through the fiscal year, the safety-net health plan appeared to be running billions of dollars over budget – which is likely to add to the multi-billion imbalance between spending and revenues that lawmakers must close early next year.

 

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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