County Executive Wants Ability to Cut Medicaid Programs

January 11, 2011 Updated Jan 11, 2011 at 8:06 PM EDT

By John Borsa

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January 11, 2011 Updated Jan 11, 2011 at 8:06 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WBKW) -- Chris Collins says he can reduce property taxes by 40 percent, but only if Albany lets him cut some popular health care services offered under Medicaid.

When it comes to the health care program for the needy, New York State goes above and beyond what the federal government mandates, offering coverage for items like eyeglasses, physical therapy, dental services, dentures and hearing aids.

"These optional services are why New York is well-known as having the infamous Cadillac Medicaid program," Collins said.

The county executive held a news conference Tuesday morning, and said since the county pays a share of the state's Medicaid bill, it should be allowed to decide what coverage it offers and doesn't offer.

"In Erie County alone, taxpayers would see an $80 million or 40 percent reduction in their local Erie County tax bill," if the county was able to opt-out of non-mandated programs, Collins said.

Health care advocates disagree with Collins.

"This proposal, it definitely isn't the solution," said Franchelle Hart, spokesperson for 1199 SEIU, the powerful health care union. "Cutting essential services for the most vulnerable in our community is not the way to go."

Collins would need the state legislature to pass a bill and then Governor Andrew Cuomo would have to ask for a federal waiver in order to have counties take control over which items are covered under Medicaid.

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger has introduced similar legislation in the past and said he'll do so again this year.