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Government Affairs Albany Update

June 11, 2004

Tracking Health Care Spending

Health care spending per privately insured American increased 7.4 percent in 2003 -- the first major slowdown in spending growth in nearly a decade, according to a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change. Despite the downtick, health care spending grew nearly twice as fast as the overall economy, which increased 3.8 percent in 2003 as measured by growth in per capita gross domestic product.

An article about the study was published in Health Affairs. The coauthor is Paul B. Ginsburg, Ph.D and President of the Center for Studying Health System Change.

Environmental Excellence Award

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has launched a new "Environmental Excellence Award" program, designed to recognize outstanding achievement by businesses and others in environmental innovation, sustainability and partnerships. This program replaces and expands upon existing environmental awards programs focusing on pollution prevention and recycling. Basic criteria is that projects must exceed regulatory requirements, and have been completed or be in substantial progress by April 30, 2004. Other than that, the program is fairly open ended. Projects that involved development of equipment, modifying of processes, reduce resource use, increase recycling or have other types of environmental benefit are welcome to apply. The application deadline is July 15, 2004.

Senate Passes Puzzling UC Bill

The Senate on Thursday of this week passed a puzzling piece of unemployment compensation legislation. Senate bill number 3444A sponsored by former senator Guy Velella would require the Department of Labor to return to a system of heavier reliance on in-person claim initiation and in-person weekly benefit check eligibility verification at all Department of Labor offices throughout the State. However, the legislation fails to provide any monies to fund the additional department office staffing that would be required. In addition, the legislation would place additional posting and notification requirements on employers throughout the State and establish fines of up to $500 for failure to meet the new requirements.

The sponsor's bill memorandum states as justification for enactment of the legislation: "The Department of Labor's recent adoption of a Tel-Claim system to be utilized for the purpose of filing and processing unemployment insurance claims and the closing of department offices across the state, have raised serious concerns relating to the impact these changes will have on an individual's ability to understand and use the new telephone system." The memorandum which was created by the sponsor on March 17 of this year is puzzling since the Tel-Claim system has been in use since 1999 -- and the system has been acclaimed for the efficiency it offers claimants. Waiting time on in-person lines at department offices which was measured in hours in the 1990s is now measured in minutes with the Tel-Claim system. Claimants also laud the flexibility of being able to telephone in weekly eligibility verification while seeking new and seasonal employment opportunities in warm weather states instead of negotiating travel and weather difficulties associated with in-person reporting at department offices.

Moreover, Department staffing is funded through formulas by the Federal government out of Federal UC taxes paid by private sector employers. Funds are allotted on time units deemed necessary to perform various UC application and claim functions. Computer efficiency is built into the formulas necessitating computer usage to meet the funding goals.