Rev. Mark Blue: Gov. Hochul Must Fully Fund
Medicaid to Avert a Healthcare Crisis

February 25, 2024

More than 7 million New Yorkers across our state, including our communities here in Western New York, are caught in a severe health care crisis. The cause? Our state’s Medicaid program pays hospitals, nursing homes and doctors 30% less than the actual cost of providing care to our most vulnerable neighbors.

As the pastor of Second Baptist Church of Lackawanna and the president of the NAACP’s Buffalo chapter, I witness firsthand the suffering this is causing for my congregation members, including low- income children, people with disabilities, and seniors. It is unconscionable.

Our state has lost 850 psychiatric beds in hospitals in recent years, despite a mental health crisis. More than two dozen New York maternity wards have closed in the last 15 years, mostly upstate, leaving many expectant mothers scrambling for care.

Half of hospitals in New York have reported reducing and/or eliminating health services due to short staffing. Nearly 40 hospitals have closed since 2003, and many more are now at risk of closing. This crisis is acutely felt right here in Western New York.

Last June, Eastern Niagara Hospital was forced to close due to financial instability. In that same month, Mount St. Mary’s had to significantly cut the number of available beds, which forced many patients to find another hospital.

It’s simply unacceptable that Medicaid pays hospitals, nursing homes and doctors 30% less to care for Western New Yorkers who rely on the program for their health care. It is as if our most vulnerable New Yorkers, many of whom I see each day in my congregation, are being treated like 30% less of a person. Our communities, that need help most, are being shortchanged on the care they so desperately need.

There is a straightforward solution. Gov. Kathy Hochul can fix this crisis by raising the Medicaid reimbursement rate. Unfortunately, the Governor’s budget ignores this injustice. New York is sitting on massive cash reserves, and the federal government will even pay more than half the cost to fix this crisis. So why would Hochul turn away that money and allow our hospitals to keep closing and our most vulnerable neighbors to continue suffering?

If we are unwilling to stand with our communities now, then when? If we are unwilling to invest in the health and well-being of New Yorkers, then who are we willing to invest in? The Gospel tells us to use whatever gift we have received to serve others. It is time for us to heed this timeless advice.

My faith teaches me that we must never turn a blind eye to the poor or ignore those who suffer from illness or disability. Our hospitals always give their patients 100%, but we cannot sit idly by as New York’s Medicaid program treats people in our communities like they are 30% less of a person simply because they cannot afford private insurance.

Ending this crisis will ensure that every New Yorker has access to quality care, and that hospitals and patients aren’t made to suffer. It will ensure that low-income communities receive the care that they deserve regardless of where they live.

Hochul must end the Medicaid crisis now. She can be our saving grace.

New Yorkers are looking to her leadership to protect New York’s most vulnerable and protect health care for all.

The Rev. Mark Blue is pastor of Second Baptist Church and president of the NAACP’s Buffalo Chapter. This editorial was originally published in the Buffalo News on February 25, 2024.