Politics

The biggest health threats to New Yorkers? Water contamination, Obamacare repeal

Philip Kamrass/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

The biggest health care issue facing New York – and many other states – is the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act. President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have taken steps toward repealing the health care legislation, but it’s unclear how or when they would replace it.

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a report on the impact of repealing the law, also known as Obamacare. According to the report, about 2.7 million New Yorkers would lose their health insurance coverage and the state would lose nearly $600 million in federal funding. It is estimated that a repeal will cost the state $3.7 billion.

“The cost of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to state and local budgets and to the New Yorkers who depend on its health care coverage, is simply too high to justify,” Cuomo said. “Since its implementation, the Affordable Care Act has become a powerful tool to lower the cost of health insurance for local governments and New Yorkers, and it is essential that the federal government does not jeopardize the health and livelihoods of millions of working families.”

Republican officials in Washington, D.C., have said that any replacement will still provide access to health care insurance – with some even claiming that no one will lose their coverage – but they have yet to agree on a detailed plan. Thus, it’s also unclear how many New Yorkers might ultimately lose coverage under a new system, and what steps, if any, the state could take in response.

Until then, Cuomo has proposed legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He has also proposed several initiatives to expand and improve the health care delivery system in central and eastern Brooklyn.

To help stem the rising cost of prescription drugs, Cuomo has proposed a price ceiling for certain high-cost drugs under the Medicaid program and would require pharmacy benefit managers to register and obtain a license from the state to prevent conflicts of interest and abuse. Additionally, he has proposed a surcharge on drug manufacturers that exceed a price benchmark when these high-cost drugs are sold into the state.

The governor has set the goal of reducing the number of new HIV infections to 750 a year by expanding HIV testing and treatment and mandating the electronic reporting of HIV antiretroviral prescriptions that are filled. The ultimate goal is to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the end of 2020.

On other fronts, the Cuomo administration has been criticized for being less proactive. The governor faced fierce criticism over the state’s response to the contamination of the water in Hoosick Falls with perfluorooctanoic acid. Many Hoosick Falls residents and advocates argued the state was aware of the contamination long before it took action and informed residents of the toxic levels.

Last year, Cuomo created a Water Quality Rapid Response Team and this year he introduced a $2 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act, which would replace aging pipes, upgrade water treatment facilities and include funding for new technologies to address the potential presence of contaminants in drinking water. He has also proposed legislation that would require the testing of private wells upon the sale of the property and testing of certain public water supplies for unregulated contaminants.

Water quality legislation is also a priority for the state Senate Health Committee. State Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon sponsored legislation that would create the Clean Water Bond Act of 2017 and authorize $5 billion to improve water quality. Hannon also introduced a bill to institute a study to make recommendations for the establishment of maximum contaminant levels.

“This proposal is among the recommendations made in the Senate Health and Environmental Committee report that was issued after a series of hearings held around the state calling for much-needed funding to enhance drinking water quality and to prevent and remediate contaminants,” Hannon said. “I was pleased to see the governor follow this lead and include $2 billion in this year’s proposed budget for water infrastructure needs across the state.”

THE ISSUES:

– Absorbing potential federal funding cuts

– Tackling prescription drug costs

– Combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic

– Clean water infrastructure

– Codifying Roe v. Wade: While Senate Republicans have blocked this in the past, the governor moved unilaterally to require coverage of contraception and medically necessary abortions

– Combating the heroin and opioid crisis: Senate Republicans continue to focus on the drug abuse epidemic, although it’s a priority in both houses

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