Gottfried, advocates call on Cuomo to sign bill protecting school-based health centers

By Nick Niedzwiadek
10/31/2017 01:29 PM EDT

ALBANY — School-based health centers would face a “fiscal cliff” if forced to join Medicaid managed care plans next year, the head of the group that represents the centers said Tuesday.

School-based health centers — which offer a suite of primary and preventative health care and mental health services at no cost to students in low-income communities — are set to transition from the fee-for-service Medicaid reimbursement model to managed care plans beginning July 1, 2018.

That shift worries administrators and advocates, who fear the move will increase administrative costs, erect unnecessary barriers to care and possibly force a reduction in services offered.

“If these centers have to negotiate their own rates, and they are carved-in and not successful in sustaining the funding they have now, it is most likely they will have to start reducing their services, or possibly close their doors,” Sarah Murphy, executive director of the New York School-Based Health Alliance, said at a press conference.

The Department of Health did not immediately comment on the change.

The state Legislature this year passed a bill, A. 7866, that would continue to exempt the state’s more than 250 school-based health centers from having to join managed care plans, unless they chose to do so.

“They have always been hanging on by their fingernails financially,” said Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the measure. “Part of their ability to survive has been the fact that they can bill Medicaid directly for kids who are enrolled in Medicaid.”

Assemblyman Félix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) joined Gottfried in calling for the governor to sign the bill, adding that there are 10 school-based health centers in his district, which includes Red Hook and Sunset Park.

“This is very simple: This is about prevention,” he said.

The bill has yet to be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for consideration.

“This is one of more than 500 bills that passed the Legislature in the final weeks of session. It remains under review by Counsel’s Office,” Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a statement.

Over the years, the state has tried to move more programs into managed care plans, but school-based health centers had been “carved-out” from having to make the switch. Roughly 235,000 students attend class at a location with a school-based health center.

Supporters of school-based health centers say that because they are located in a child’s school, obtaining needed care is less disruptive for students and their parents and contributes to a host of benefits that include better attendance rates, school performance, college enrollment and career earnings.

“Without permanent cover provided by this legislation, we are at risk of losing these vital services,” said Momba Chia, director of public health for Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, which oversees eight such centers.