More MS news articles for May 2000

Advocates fear for Medicaid buy-in

Plan would let poor and disabled seek better-paying jobs and retain public health care insurance

Albany Times-Union
Thursday, April 27, 2000

By JAY JOCHNOWITZ ,  State editor

Albany -- A proposal to encourage thousands of disabled people to work or seek better paying jobs by allowing them to buy Medicaid coverage is in danger of being dropped in state budget talks, advocates said Wednesday.

Although the $90 million program, half of it paid by the federal government, has support in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, advocates said Gov. George Pataki and GOP Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno are cool to the idea.

Legislators agreed to the program in budget conference committees, but with state leaders still negotiating some remaining issues, the Medicaid plan is "caught up in a classic Albany logjam,'' said Michael Kink, legislative counsel for Housing Works. In talks last week, Pataki's office was noncommittal, he said, and the proposal is competing with such issues as expansion of prescription drug coverage for the elderly and school aid.

The Senate did not respond to a request for comment, while Pataki spokeswoman Suzanne Morris said only that it would be considered.

The proposal stems from a new federal law removing certain income caps on the working disabled. The program allows them to earn more than the current level of $700 a month while letting them purchase Medicaid coverage at varying costs depending on income.

A single person earning less than $26,000 would pay nothing, a person making $59,001 to $68,000 would pay $3,800 a year, and more than that would require a still-to-be-determined full premium.

With the federal government paying for half the program, added income tax revenue and employer health coverage figured in, estimates are the buy-in program would cost the state about $14 million if about 13,600 New Yorkers participate.

Advocates say the idea is good not only for the disabled but for government, because it would encourage people to work and pay more income tax. The disabled, meanwhile, would not have to fear having to rely on private insurance which may limit or not cover such things as home health care, mental health treatment or prescription drug coverage.

Robert Dodge, a father of four with depression and other mental disorders, figures the state pays more to have him earn less and keep his full Medicaid coverage than if he could seek higher-income work. He called on Pataki to support the program, which would be done on a three-year trial basis.

"I'm willing to walk with him on this path, but ... give them the incentive,'' he said. "This is not a hard choice. It benefits everybody.''