Making Medicaid More Accessible and Equitable: UHF’s Annual Medicaid Conference

At United Hospital Fund’s annual Medicaid Conference on July 21, Amir Bassiri, Medicaid Director at the New York State Department of Health, announced that the state’s Medicaid Program is about to become larger and more equitable. “We are committed to making sure everyone who is eligible for coverage keeps their coverage,” he told 600 attendees of the hybrid in-person and virtual conference. “Everything we’ve done demonstrates our long-term commitment to health equity and continued coverage expansion.” 

The state's Medicaid program currently serves over 7.5 million residents. Beginning January 1, 2023, New York Medicaid income eligibility for individuals 65 and older, or those who are blind or disabled, will expand from 87 percent of the federal poverty level to 138 percent, to be consistent with the income eligibility threshold for New Yorkers under age 65, Mr. Bassiri said. The State also plans to extend coverage to undocumented residents who are 65 and older by March 1, 2023. It’s all part of the State’s determination to address health disparities and system inequities in health care delivery. 

Amir Bassiri, New York State Medicaid Director

Mr. Bassiri also outlined plans to improve health equity in the state’s Medicaid program through its waiver application, under Section 1115 of the Social Security Act. Those plans include capturing better data, screening for social needs, and collaborating with community-based organizations to help meet people’s unmet health-related social needs.

His announcements meshed well with the meeting’s theme: “Investing in Equity and Collaboration.” United Hospital Fund’s annual conference convened in person for the first time since 2019 at the New York Academy of Medicine in Manhattan. It was also live-streamed. Attendance was free of charge, thanks to the generous support of The Commonwealth Fund, New York Academy of Medicine, UniteUs, Amida Care, and Manatt Health. Some 200 people attended in person, and more than 400 watched via Zoom.

Mr. Bassiri also gave a detailed account of New York State Medicaid today and where it is going, including plans to wind down from the public health emergency declared during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will include a year-long process to recertify all New York Medicaid members’ eligibility and enrollment in the program.

Following Mr. Bassiri’s keynote, a panel of representatives from Rochester-area health and community organizations discussed ways to improve Medicaid through regional health planning. Wade Norwood, Chief Executive Officer, Common Ground Health; Ann Marie Cook, Executive Director at Lifespan; Laura Gustin, Executive Director at Systems Integration Project; and Carol Tegas, Executive Director at Finger Lakes Performing Provider System agreed on the importance of regional collaborations to address community needs bridging the silos between organizations and domains. But they also cautioned that it can take years to get these collaborations and all the related moving parts working together well. “We were building the plane while we were flying it, and the rules changed daily,” said Ms. Tegas.

Nevertheless, community networks are one of the most effective ways to address social determinants of health, according to the panelists on the next session, “Leveraging Community Networks to Address Social Needs.” Moderated by UHF’s senior vice president for policy and program Chad Shearer, the conversation included Christopher Joseph, Executive Director at EngageWell IPA, and Lori Andrade, Chief Operations Officer at Health Equity Alliance of Long Island & Health and Welfare Council of Long Island. They discussed lessons from the experiences of small grassroots programs and how such programs can scale up to partner with multiple organizations.

Chad Shearer, Christopher Joseph and Lori Andrade

For the first time, the UHF Medicaid conference focused on access to Medicaid for people leaving incarceration. In the session “Connecting to Medicaid Prior to Release from the Criminal Legal System,” panelists said the state’s proposed 1115 waiver presents an opportunity to demonstrate that investment in health care for people transitioning out of incarceration can reduce recidivism. “The correctional health system should not be the primary means of health care for this community,” said Tracie Gardner, senior vice president for Policy Advocacy at the Legal Action Center

The other panelists were Shira Shavit, MD, executive director of Transitions Clinic Network; Jeffrey Coots, director of From Punishment to Public Health, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; and Patsy Yang, senior vice president of Correctional Health Services, NYC Health + Hospitals. The panelists also called for investments in preventive care for people affected by substance use disorders and mental illness before they become incarcerated.

Melinda K. Abrams, executive vice president for programs at The Commonwealth Fund, wrapped up the conference with some words of hope. Although it can be easy to feel distressed and deflated by the state of health care reform today, “I heard a lot of innovation today, at the community level but also at the state’s Medicaid system,” she said. “I’m walking away with a healthy dose of optimism and a little light.” 

Aug. 16, 2022
Focus Area
Coverage and Access
Medicaid Institute