No Good Deed Unpunished; “Whoops” Not Cutting It

From the Albany Times Union:

A political and policy battle between President Bush and Gov. Eliot Spitzer is hitting working New Yorkers in their wallets after Spitzer jumped the gun in starting an ambitious child health insurance care program before getting federal approval.

The result is that people who had already started paying dramatically lower rates to insure their kids have been hit with bills demanding the difference, which in some cases is hundreds of dollars.

If Danielle Mazza’s reaction is any indication, it’s the governor, not the president, who’s going to feel the backlash.

“This issue was completely avoidable, by not putting into play a plan that had not received federal approval, when clearly it was known by the governor that such approval was necessary,” said Mazza, a Queensbury mother.

Maybe New York State thought getting waivers had been a routine thing in the past, so why should now be any different? On the other hand, Mrs. Mazza may have a good point. We are living in an incipient political ice age, as far as the federal government wanting to help states help their citizens is concerned.

The state, which runs the program under the federal State Child Health Insurance Program, applied for a waiver from the existing rules. But the Bush administration put the brakes on the plan in August with new regulations that said states could not exceed the income limits unless they already enrolled 95 percent of those eligible under the old guidelines. New York says it’s at 88 percent, and that 95 percent is unreasonable.

Kids would also have to go without coverage for a year before being eligible, to keep people from dumping private coverage just to get reduced subsidized rates.

[Health Department spokeswoman Claudia] Hutton noted the federal government didn’t go through the usual rule-making process, which involves publishing regulations and a public comment period. Spitzer, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and 28 other governors sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt Sept. 17 protesting the rule. Democrats are painting Bush as blocking health care for kids to protect wealthy insurance companies.

Still and all, should anyone have been surprised? New York, apparently.

What New York didn’t publicize in the highly public battle, however, is that it had already billed people at lower rates established with the new program. When Mazza, who’d gotten a cut from more than $100 a month to $40 a month, opened her bill September 17, it was nearly $300. New York, she found, wanted her to pay back the difference. Two co-workers, she said, received similar bills.

“Whoops” just doesn’t cut it, said Mazza, who said she and her husband can afford the increase, but wonders how many people will have to drop coverage now.

“The state has placed those people it aims to help in a very tight spot,” she said. “The state should eat its mistake, for acting irresponsibly.”

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