ALBANY, NY — A new Empire Center report reveals that the New York Medicaid program now covers more individuals above the poverty line than below it. The government-financed health plan has traditionally focused on the indigent and disabled. In recent years, however, its rolls have surged to more than one-third of the state’s population despite a decline in New York’s poverty rate. 

This increase, reflected in Census Bureau data, is derived from the combined effect of two trends over the past decade: Though the state’s poverty rate dropped in an improving economy, its Medicaid rolls grew to a new high of more than 6 million as of 2019.  New Yorkers with incomes above the federal poverty threshold accounted for all of the net enrollment increase. 

This realignment of the safety net program has harmful effects for New York’s health care sector and beyond. Increased Medicaid enrollment and expenses leave less money available for other government programs and add to the burden on taxpayers. Because Medicaid pays substandard fees, its growth distorts the finances of the health-care system. Because it is partly financed with taxes on private insurance, it directly drives up premiums for consumers and employers.   

Most critically, the expanding population of less-needy Medicaid enrollees diverts attention and resources from the more vulnerable recipients who should be the state’s top priority—such as indigent nursing home residents and people with severe mental and physical disabilities.  

“New York’s Medicaid program has expanded in unsustainable ways, prioritizing quantity of coverage over quality of care to the detriment of the vulnerable people it was originally meant to help,” said report author Bill Hammond, Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy. “With Medicaid enrollment and costs under better control, the state could reinvest its savings to lift Medicaid fees closer to the industry standard, which would improve care for the program’s neediest recipients.” 

Read the full report here. 

The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.

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