Amid public pressure from New York's governor, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is positioning himself as a legislative champion for New York providers in the COVID-19 crisis. But he may be overstating his involvement, sources say.
New York has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country. The state's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pressuring the New York congressional delegation, including Schumer (D), to deliver resources back home. The first two aid packages Congress is considering have included little direct support to providers, and Cuomo said that funding will not meet the needs of his state's providers.
Cuomo made clear on March 6 that he faulted the New York congressional delegation for not directing more money to the state in Congress' first supplemental funding bill.
"I know when someone passes a piece of legislation, they don't want you to criticize the legislation. But the reality of this situation is it's not enough funding for the state of New York," Cuomo said on March 6.
Two days later, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) outlined their priorities for a second relief package, including increasing the surge capacity of the medical system. That provision was ultimately left out of the draft package.
Instead, a provision surfaced Wednesday night that would increase federal Medicaid matching funds across the board. The policy has been implemented in previous financial crises, and hospitals like the idea because padding state Medicaid funds could head off provider reimbursement cuts. Estimates show New York could receive the most money of any state under such an arrangement.
Schumer claimed credit for the provision once the bill passed the House.
"Schumer, who played direct role in House negotiations, successfully included NY-specific measures into bill that will deliver billions to the state upon president's signature," his news release was titled. Schumer highlighted that the state, counties and New York City would likely receive a combined $6.7 billion in new Medicaid funds from the increased matching rate.
Greater New York Hospital Association President Kenneth Raske also praised Schumer for his role in ensuring the provisions.
"I am deeply grateful to Sen. Schumer for his relentless advocacy to ensure that this bill included a major Medicaid funding increase for New York and the entire country," Raske said.
But sources with knowledge of the negotiations said Schumer appeared to inflate his role in the talks, as the idea of bumping federal Medicaid funding to states originated with House Democrats. Schumer weighed in on some tweaks to the provision, but they were added after it was already included in a first draft.
Cuomo wasn't satisfied with the Medicaid funding regardless, and on Monday complained that the bill would limit states' flexibility to adjust their Medicaid programs. The governor convened a commission to find cost savings in Medicaid earlier this year, and Cuomo said following the group's recommendations will be crucial to balancing the state budget.
"Why the federal government would have passed the written-in-language that says you can't make any changes to your Medicaid program, why our New York delegation allowed it when they knew in January we had a [Medicaid Redesign Team]... I have no idea," he said.
The bill would stop states from changing their eligibility standards and methods, raising premiums, and charging cost sharing for COVID-19 tests, treatment and eventual vaccines. Cuomo said Schumer told him the changes would limit states' abilities to shift costs to counties and cities.
A spokesperson for Schumer's office did not respond to requests for comment.
Though the Senate hasn't passed a second relief package yet, lawmakers have already started negotiations on a third major economic stimulus bill. The timeline for that legislation remains unclear.
Schumer's priorities for the third package include addressing hospital and treatment capacity issues, ensuring that everyone can afford treatment for COVID-19 and utilizing Defense Department resources to support nationwide response, among other issues.
The Greater New York Hospital Association has outlined its primary requests: suspending Medicare sequestration cuts, creating an emergency fund for hospitals, providing hospitals low-cost loan assistance, authorizing funding for child care for healthcare workers, and delaying cuts to Medicaid disproportionate-share hospital payments that are set to go into effect on May 22.