The Wall Street Journal reported this week on an approaching milestone as the New York Medicaid program expects to enroll its five millionth member in the coming days. Enrollment totals were last released in August, at which point there were 4,963,000 people participating in the healthcare program. Membership has only increased as of late, and experts predict that the total will actually top six million by the end of Governor Cuomo’s first term in office. The increasing popularity of the program has placed a strain on state and local budgets–it remains the single biggest spending area for the state government.
As it now stands roughly 26% of all state residents utilize New York Medicaid services in some form. That rate is 10% higher than the national average. Many government officials predict that changes are going to have to be made to account for the increased use of Medicaid. The head of the state’s Association of Counties explained, “It’s an unsustainable trend. The revenues from all levels of government just aren’t there to sustain this growth.”
However, members of Governor’s Cuomo’s team were more optimistic about the state’s ability to handle the program’s finances. The chief executive announced earlier this year a plan to cap state-funded Medicaid spending growth at 4% a year. The Governor’s spokesman explained this week that the Medicaid Redesign Team had already been able to enact dramatic changes, and the program spending is running below the current cap. Unlike political leaders in many other states, the Governor has yet to enact any changes to Medicaid benefits or eligibility rules. Instead, Governor Cuomo has tried to account for the costs by lowering rates and shifting certain patients to managed care instead of fee-for-service coverage.
Program advocates explain that the ongoing recession, high unemployment rate, and decrease in employer coverage has made the program more important than ever for many local residents. Our New York elder law attorneys know that the staggering cost of long-term care makes it impossible for many middle-class seniors to receive the care they need outside of the Medicaid system. The program is a lifeline for many vulnerable elderly residents. However, it is the increase in seniors on Medicaid that is causing observers to fear for the program long-term fiscal stability. Seniors are more expensive to treat than nonelderly adults. Yet, over the next two decades demographic trends predict that there will be a 36% increase in the number of residents over 85 years old, likely adding to the overall cost of the program.
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