Tuesday, December 29, 2009

ALBANY, N.Y. | The landmark federal health reform care bill being negotiated in Washington is heating up New York politics, pitting the state’s two top Democrats against each other and giving Republicans an opportunity to snipe at a side deal that swayed a key vote in the U.S. Senate.

Gov. David A. Paterson and Sen. Charles E. Schumer are at odds over how good - or bad - the Senate version of the bill is for New York. And the Republican is trying to enlist Democratic Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo to help dismantle the bill by challenging a big break given to Nebraska.

“It leaves New York in the lurch,” Mr. Paterson told the Associated Press. “I don’t think anyone with any integrity can deny that’s what’s going on. … We’ll lose over $1 billion dollars if they don’t fix that health care reform act.”

The Democratic governor cited a proposed lower rate of federal reimbursement for New York’s Medicaid services to the poor. Because the program is relatively generous, reimbursements under the Senate version would be less than for most other states and below the national average.

But Mr. Schumer said in an interview that the only specific item Mr. Paterson refers to is $400 million in federal stimulus money for Medicaid.

He said that’s funding Mr. Paterson “wanted to take from the counties and give to Albany. And we protected the counties because New Yorkers would rather the money go directly to counties rather than to Albany, where they often never see it again.”

Mr. Schumer also said Mr. Paterson is counting as cuts items included in the House version of the bill, but not the Senate’s.

He pointed to New York’s wins in the Senate version: Fending off a cut in $30 billion for teaching hospitals statewide, protecting 800,000 seniors from Medicare cuts, and funding health centers in rural areas where there is a severe need for medical care. He said he will work for more as a conference committee works out a compromise version of the bills passed in the House and Senate.

State Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County joined the fray last week. He formally asked the state to join seven others considering a challenge to the so-called Nebraska compromise that helped secure Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson’s support in a vote that blocked a GOP filibuster. The deal included an amendment to the bill that shields his state from the expected $45 million annual cost of expanding Medicaid programs.

“An unfair federal Medicaid reimbursement level already shortchanges our state,” Mr. Skelos stated in his request. “And now, because of a questionable vote-buying deal, that burden could increase significantly.”

“New York should join other states in any legal challenge to a Washington deal that could only add to New York’s tax burden and fiscal problems,” he said. “The taxpayers deserve no less.”

As the state’s lawyer, Mr. Cuomo is reviewing the request, forcing the popular Democrat into a dicey political spot between Mr. Schumer, the state’s most influential Democrat, and Mr. Paterson, who Mr. Cuomo may challenge for governor next year.

South Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, North Dakota, Texas and Washington state - all with Republican attorneys general - are jointly taking a look at the deal.

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