Yates Legislature: Feds should 'do no harm'

Gwen Chamberlain

Yates County lawmakers got a round of applause Monday afternoon when they passed a resolution urging federal representatives to do no harm as they work on health care legislation. In particular, the resolution encourages the preservation of Medicaid expansion and enhanced federal Medicaid reimbursement.

Several county residents asked the legislators to communicate with U.S. Rep. Tom Reed and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand regarding the proposed Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

The resolution, approved by a vote of 11 to 3, also calls on State Sen. Tom O’Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to assure that any additional cost to New York State based on federal action be borne entirely by the state, and not passed on to counties.

Legislators Mark Morris (District 3), Terry Button (District 2), and Jim Smith (District 2) voted no. Morris said he felt there isn’t enough information to make a decision.

County Administrator Robert Lawton reported he met with Rep. Reed last week, and told the Congressman that 2,500 people in Yates County have secured insurance through the ACA, and the plan proposed by Congressional Republicans would increase local costs by $300,000. He said before the ACA was passed, 15 percent of Yates County’s residents did not have health insurance, but now just 8 percent don’t have coverage. Lawton said he made it clear “That we weren’t taking a position, but these are factors that are important to people in Yates County.”

The resolution was added to the agenda after the online publication of the meeting’s agenda late last week, which spurred a response from the group of residents who turned out to address the legislature.

“We started talking to you in February, and when I got the agenda and saw there was nothing on here, I felt you were stonewalling,” said Valerie Brechko, co-chair of the Yates County Democratic Party. She presented the legislators with a petition with over 70 signatures asking the legislature to take action.

Mary Zelazny, CEO of Finger Lakes Community Health, told the legislators the GOP plan would cut Critical Care Hospital funding to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital. She said cutting Medicaid funding will shift the cost from the federal government to localities. “If you cut people’s Medicaid, they will start to use the Emergency Room again for colds, and ear infections, and that gets very expensive.”

Zelazny said expanded Medicaid in New York covers prenatal care at a cost of between $2,500 to $3,000. “One day in a neonatal unit costs over $10,000, so the investment in trying to make sure people use prenatal care is a good one. We need to invest in getting people to primary care,” she said.

Legislative Chairman Timothy Dennis said, “You haven’t seen a lot of action from this body because it’s a moving target.”

Pointing out that the per capita cost of Medicaid in New York State is $3,000 compared to $2,100 in California and $1,300 in Texas, Smith said he shares the sentiment of “doing no harm,” but it’s difficult when costs vary from state to state.

The legislators also passed resolutions urging state action on funding for Cornell Cooperative Extension and an increase in the local share of Department of Motor Vehicle fee collections.

Legislators unanimously approved a resolution supporting The Friends of the Outlet Trail efforts to maintain and improve the Outlet Trail. During committee meetings last week, legislators discussed ways to assist the Friends in securing funds from the county’s occupancy tax revenues to maintain and improve the trail.