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Feds approve $8 billion Medicaid waiver, substantial funds headed to Brooklyn hospitals

Which hospitals will benefit still unknown

February 14, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer announced late on Thursday that that New York’s ‘Medicaid waiver’ has finally has been approved, and that the state will receive $8 billion from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The original waiver application, made more than 18 months ago, amounted to $10 billion, of which $1 billion was earmarked for Brooklyn’s struggling hospitals.The money comes from savings generated over five years by New York’s Medicaid Redesign Team.

Gov. Cuomo said in a statement that New York would reinvest the $8 billion to transform the state’s health care system and “preserve vital health services in Brooklyn and other parts of the state including struggling hospitals.”

“While the State will be reviewing the terms and conditions of this agreement, it is clearly the biggest step forward towards a positive conclusion for our communities, particularly in Brooklyn, that have suffered from diminishing health care services,” Gov. Cuomo said.

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“Securing this waiver will address those needs, allowing us to increase access and improve the quality of care for New Yorkers while making New York’s health care system a model for the entire nation,” he continued. “I thank Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her team at the Department of Health and Human Services for their cooperation and assistance.”

Last month the Governor, in his 2014-2015 budget address, singled out Brookdale, Interfaith and Long Island College Hospital (LICH) as being close to folding. “We have been propping up the system for 18 months while waiting for the waiver. We need it now. There is truly a crisis in Brooklyn,” he said.

Insiders say, however, it’s too soon to tell exactly which hospitals will benefit from the waiver funds. The ultimate purpose of the money is to transition hospitals over time to provide more primary care and outpatient procedures, rather than more inpatient hospital procedures.

SUNY Downstate, itself financially troubled, has been fighting a court battle to sell LICH. SUNY spokesperson David Doyle told the Brooklyn Eagle that the waiver will not change their plans. “The waiver does not alter SUNY’s plans to exit the operation of LICH. ‎SUNY will continue to play a role in the state’s efforts to  transform Brooklyn health care through our medical school at  SUNY Downstate and University Hospital,” he said.

Sen. Daniel Squadron sees in the waiver an opportunity to re-open SUNY’s controversial LICH Request for Proposals (RFP). He tweeted, “Medicaid waiver great news for the state & another reason to re-open the LICH RFP.”

Thursday’s agreement follows more than a year of “aggressive advocacy” by Governor Cuomo and Sen. Schumer.

“It’s not everything New York asked for, but it is a generous amount,” Schumer said in a statement. “I want to thank Secretary Sebelius and President Obama. This large amount of money should help all of New York – both Upstate and Downstate — with both its budgetary challenges and hospital needs.  We worked long and hard for over a year to help deliver for New York, and now the federal government has stepped up to the plate.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been very active in the fight to save troubled Brooklyn Hospitals, said in a statement,“This is long-overdue good news, and it’s a tremendous victory for the elected officials and communities that have fought long and hard over these many months. For neighborhoods at risk of losing their access to health care, the waiver will help stabilize and transform struggling institutions. Governor Cuomo and his team were tenacious and effective in fighting for the funds we were owed, and I applaud Secretary Sebelius and Senator Schumer for ensuring the federal government met its obligations.”

De Blasio added, “With this funding, we can finally turn the page on a decade of reckless hospital closures, and confront the immediate crises facing seven hospitals in Brooklyn alone. This is our opportunity to focus on long-term solutions that deepen access to preventative, primary and emergency care. I look forward to working with the Governor and communities across the city to seize it.”

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James commented, “Make no mistake: there is a hospital crisis in our city and particularly in Brooklyn right now. This money will go a long way in making sure every New Yorker has access to quality, affordable healthcare, no matter which zip code they live in. I commend President Obama, Secretary Sebelius, our federal representatives, and everyone who has lobbied for this waiver. Let’s build on this momentum for healthcare access and redouble our efforts to ensure healthcare for all.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, “This is a crucial step that my local elected colleagues and I have been urging for to take Brooklyn hospitals off life support and give them needed aid. Resources like these will help advance the essential work of improving health care in our borough, an effort which must include patients, physicians, providers and political leaders alike in partnership.”

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) said, “I applaud the Obama administration for allowing New York to re-invest $8 billion over five years in Medicaid savings into the state’s health care system — a waiver that could save several of our city’s struggling hospitals. I am proud that, united with Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and other leaders, we were able to get HHS to do the right thing for the people of New York.”

Jill Furillo, Executive Director of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), said in a statement, “These federal funds will help to protect healthcare in underserved communities.  Too many patients already lack access to quality care.   Patients, nurses, caregivers, and elected leaders are united to stop the epidemic of hospital cuts and closures.  Our Brooklyn delegation, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and President Obama have all demonstrated a commitment to end healthcare disparities. Supporting struggling hospitals that serve low-income communities of color is key to that fight. We will continue to work together to keep our hospitals open for care.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-8) said the decision was “a tremendous victory for safety net hospitals like Interfaith Medical Center . . .It is now important to make sure that the billions of dollars that will be made available to New York State are spent in the communities that need it most.”

Earlier this week, California Republican Darrell Issa, the chairman of the Housing Oversight and Government Reform Committee asked Secretary Sebelius to block the funds until New York repays billions of dollars in supposed overpayments made as far back as 1991.

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