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State Medicaid Chief Apologizes for Overlooking Housing as Part of Redesign

February 9, 2011

Team member Tom Duane speaks to the Medicaid reform team.

Team member Tom Duane speaks to the Medicaid reform team.

After four and half hours of debate into Wednesday's meeting of the New York State Medicaid redesign team, somebody finally said it:

"You've got to deal with housing as a fundamental component of health," said Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services in New York City, chastising both the state health department and the Medicaid redesign team for not bringing up the issue. "Without that we're cutting off a lot of our [cost-saving] options."

Wednesday marked the second meeting of the reform team that is charged with revamping the state's increasingly costly Medicaid program. Team members have been traveling the state, soliciting suggestions for reform from Medicaid users and providers. At the New York City public forum last week, advocates from Housing Works -- as well as Harlem United and Amida Care -- stressed that providing access to affordable housing could be a key cost-saving tool for the state. "It's the single most cost-effective intervention for improving health outcomes and lowering medicaid costs," said Charles King, Housing Works' president and CEO.

When the redesign team meeting concluded, state Medicaid director Jason Helgerson admitted that the health department should have included housing in the conversation. "I want to apologize, because it is something that we heard in hearings. We heard it here in New York City, but we also heard it upstate, that [inability to] access affordable housing is an impediment to people staying in the community . . . We're very interested in talking about how we can put together a housing package as part of this reform process."

Watch the webcast of Wednesday's hearing.

Transparency Troubles

Last week, several members of the public criticized the health department for failing to make the reform process sufficiently inclusive. Wednesday at the meeting at Hunter College in Manhattan, it was redesign team members themselves who raised the issue.


The health department has collected more than 2,000 ideas for reform. Helgerson explained to the redesign team that his staff at the department of health will select 25 to 30 ideas, flesh them out in one-to-two page summaries, and e-mail those summaries to the team on Feb. 14.

The team will have just three days to provide feedback. After, the team will meet twice more -- on Feb. 24 to discuss feedback, and on March 1 to vote on the reform proposals.

State Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, a member of the redesign team, expressed concern that many relevant ideas may not be included in the selection of suggestions, and that the process gives significant power to a handful of health department staffers. "I don't think that's going to be good enough," he said.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in January, he pledged to overhaul the state's $53 billion-plus program as a way to rescue the state from mounting deficit. He appointed the 27-member redesign team, assigning it the task of finding initial cost-savings by March 1. His aim is to shave nearly $3 billion from the program for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The overhaul will affect 4.7 million people who use Medicaid, including 64,000 people living with HIV.

Take Part in Reform

February 11 is the deadline to submit reform ideas to the redesign team for inclusion in the March 1 package. Make a suggestion to the team.

This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
Housing and HIV Prevention/Treatment

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