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Lieutenant governor sounds warning on repealing Affordable Care Act

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)
Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul

The state’s lieutenant governor said New Yorkers should be deeply worried if the U.S. Senate approves a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Currently, the Senate does not have the votes for the GOP plan, but Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said that doesn’t mean opponents of the measure should be complacent.

“This is heading down a path that is very disturbing,” Hochul said.

She had some sarcastic advice for people if the repeal and replacement is approved: “Don’t get sick. And definitely don’t get old.”

Hochul said New York stands to lose up to $7 billion a year in aid for Medicaid recipients and other related health plans. That would affect hospitals and nursing homes, which are the largest employers in many communities. The state health department estimates that 1 million poor and working and middle-class New Yorkers could lose coverage.

Hochul said only the ultra-rich would benefit from the plan, receiving, on average, a $37,000 tax cut.

“If you’re in the top 1 percent of income earners, you’re just high-fiving it,” Hochul said.

The House of Representatives struggled to pass a repeal and replacement plan earlier this year, until they came up with some amendments that would pull in enough yes votes, and the Senate is now expected to do the same.

One of those amendments was crafted to gain the support of two upstate New York congressmen, Chris Collins and John Faso. It would require New York state to pay for the counties’ share of Medicaid costs at a price tag of $2.3 billion a year. Hochul calls it a “betrayal” and a “disgrace.”

“Who goes to Washington to bring less back to their state, less back to their districts?” she asked. “Who does that?”

Collins and Faso contend that county property taxpayers will benefit from the plan by seeing their taxes go down.

In 2011 and 2012, Hochul held the congressional seat now occupied by Collins. She lost the election to him partly due to her vote for Obamacare. She said she’s happy being lieutenant governor, though, and does not foresee a rematch.

Bill Hammond with the Empire Center, a fiscal watchdog group, agreed that the state stands to lose billions of dollars under the Senate’s health care plan.

Hammond said New York, which has a larger Medicaid budget than most states, would be more severely penalized under the Senate plan than most other states. The Senate version would enact a stricter Medicaid funding limit on higher-spending states than on states that spend smaller amounts on government-financed health care.

“It says, ‘If your spending per enrollee is more than 25 percent above the national average, you’re going to take a little extra haircut on your federal aid,’ ” Hammond said.

It adds up to billions of dollars over the years that New York would lose in federal funding.

Hammond said the governor and Legislature would have to make some big changes in the state budget in order to cope. Options include cutting health care benefits, trimming payments to providers or raising taxes — all politically thorny.

After health care, the next-largest portion of the budget is aid to education, which also would be politically difficult to cut.

Hochul said she’s not ready yet to discuss potential cuts in the state budget. She believes the Senate vote can be stopped. She cited a recent poll that found only 17 percent of Americans want to repeal the ACA. And, she said, she’s hearing the same from some of her own constituents, including at a recent visit to a diner in a rural part of western New York, where many former opponents of Obamacare now don’t want lose their benefits.

Hochul said senators are “tone deaf” if they don’t heed those views.

New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, oppose the Senate Republican plan and have offered their own scathing assessments.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.