Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

For Release — Tuesday, February 1, 2005


ALBANY—New York’s successful effort to transform society through welfare reform a decade ago proves that the state can enact cost-cutting Medicaid reform today despite stiff opposition from special interests, Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh said today.

“The critics and cynics who said 'welfare reform' would never happen in New York State were wrong. It did happen,” Walsh said in remarks prepared for a plenary address at the annual legislative conference of the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC). The plenary session was scheduled for 9 a.m. today at the Desmond Hotel in Albany.

“The critics and cynics who said 'welfare reform' shouldn’t happen because it was cruel and mean-spirited were also wrong. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers who were once captive to a welfare system are today in the workforce because of welfare reform.”

“Think of welfare reform when you hear those TV ads warning of dire consequences from Medicaid reform," he added. "That’s the same fear message we heard in 1995, 1996, and 1997 when the state embarked on welfare reform.”

Walsh strongly rejected overheated rhetoric and TV commercials from hospital interests battling relief for taxpayers through Medicaid reform.

“We must be clear about what we want and what we don’t want,” Walsh said. “We want Medicaid reform which provides quality care to recipients at an affordable cost to taxpayers. We are not for gutting programs. We are not for hurting the poor or the elderly. And we are not for scaring our citizens.

“Let’s stick with the facts. Far from gutting programs, this year’s Executive Budget increases total Medicaid spending by over $1 billion. But you wouldn’t know that from the opponents of change. That’s because they believe Medicaid is designed to serve their members as opposed to serving our citizens who need care.”

Walsh noted that the need for Medicaid reform has united many different regions and segments of the state. For example, The Business Council and New York State Association of Counties are working together to support cost-cutting Medicaid reform for counties. The Council supports a complete state take-over of counties' Medicaid spending if it comes with an ironclad requirement that counties' savings be returned to county taxpayers.

Walsh credited NYSAC and its members for calling attention across the state to the effect that state-mandated Medicaid spending has in driving up a local property-tax burden that is already the nation’s highest.

“The inability to control Medicaid costs have resulted in increased taxes and an inability to invest in areas of need—our educational system, economic development, transportation, or any of the multitude of other areas where our citizens and our communities have needs that warrant support,” Walsh said.

The clear fiscal case for Medicaid reform has been intensified by growing political pressure from taxpayers around the state, Walsh added.

“Senator after senator, and assemblymember after assemblymember, have told us that the constant question they were faced with in their campaigns were questions from the voters is, 'Why can’t Albany get things done?'," Walsh said.

Because of this new pressure from taxpayers, cost-cutting Medicaid reform will be the chief measure of success for the 2005 legislative session, Walsh said. The Legislature may improve its operations with various procedural changes, but taxpayers, counties, and business are more concerned with legislative outcomes, not processes.

“Process is important, but results matter,” Walsh said. “And Medicaid reform is the result that matters most to our constituencies. We need to hold the political system accountable for the results it achieves or doesn’t achieve. Medicaid reform must become a litmus test of accountability as to whether our legislature and our elected officials are functioning in the way the electorate has a right to expect.”

The state’s local and regional chambers of commerce are poised to rally in support of Medicaid reform, and are arranging for buttons, bumper stickers, billboards with a message for state lawmakers:”Medicaid Reform—Don’t Come Home Without It.”

Walsh reviewed four specific reforms that could cut costs without undermining the quality or availability of care: increasing reliance on managed care for high-needs patients; taking fuller advantage of disease-state management-treatment plans for treating those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and congestive heart failure; right-sizing the long-term care system; and giving counties greater flexibility in designing and delivering their own Medicaid programs.