Gov. Kathy Hochul says she wants to improve access to mental health care, limit social media’s negative impact on teens and bolster slipping health outcomes for pregnant New Yorkers.
Those are among the major health care priorities Hochul laid out for the upcoming legislative session in her State of the State address Tuesday.
Health care initiatives make up a huge chunk of the agenda, and the governor has yet to release details on the potential budget impact of her proposals. Under her administration, costs related to Medicaid, the state health plan for low-income New Yorkers, have grown at a faster rate than under her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.
Some of Hochul’s plans come with dedicated federal funding, however. Hochul announced Tuesday that the Biden administration has approved a new waiver for New York’s Medicaid program that will allow the state to put an additional $6 billion in federal dollars toward programs to grow the health care workforce, increase access to primary care and support financially struggling safety-net hospitals.
Last year, Hochul’s mental health agenda focused on increasing the number of psychiatric beds statewide by 1,000 — in part, by pressuring hospitals to reopen beds that had closed during the pandemic. She has made progress toward that goal and this year, she is seeking to add more beds in state-run psychiatric hospitals.
At the same time, she’s also pushing new initiatives related to teen mental health and people with mental illness who are involved in the criminal justice system.
Hochul repeatedly tied mental illness to crime in her State of the State speech, although she also acknowledged that violent crime is down.
“Too often, troubled individuals are released from the hospital without the care they need and commit violent acts,” Hochul said.
Hochul’s administration sent a letter to hospital administrators in October with guidance on how to screen patients for mental health issues and connect patients to services before discharge. She said Tuesday she aims to codify that guidance in order to hold hospitals accountable.
She also said she aims to expand the number of mental health courts that offer people accused of crimes mental health treatment instead of jail time, and is proposing to fund mental health outreach workers in the court system to refer people to needed services.
Hochul’s State of the State report, further detailing the initiatives in her address, makes no mention of efforts to create alternatives to police to respond to people in the midst of a mental health crises, instead suggesting police should undergo de-escalation training for those situations.
Last year, mental health advocates pushed for Daniel’s Law, a bill that seeks to create special units to respond to mental health crises instead of police, but it has yet to come to a vote. Instead, Hochul and the state legislature included a measure in last year’s budget creating the Daniel’s Law Task Force to review potential public health responses to mental health crises.
That task force is currently conducting listening sessions around the state but any mention of an alternative response to mental health crises was left out of Hochul’s official agenda. Passing Daniel’s Law is likely to be a priority for advocates again this year.
One of the biggest barriers to mental health access is the challenge of finding a therapist covered by insurance. Hochul is seeking to incentivize mental health providers to accept Medicaid, the insurance plan for low-income New Yorkers, by increasing reimbursement for their services. At the same time, she said, she will introduce legislation to double the fines insurers face for not complying with the laws around mental health coverage.
The governor is also offering a school-based mental health clinic for any school that wants one, and enhanced funding for their services.
The governor may also have to prepare for an impending fight with Big Tech over youth mental health. Along with state Attorney General Letitia James, she is pushing legislation first announced in October that’s designed to prevent kids from getting late-night notifications or from scrolling for too long.
“The algorithms that make social media so addictive push that darkness onto young users,” Hochul said in her speech.
The group Tech:NYC, which represents major companies like Google and Meta, previously told the Times Union that the proposals could be difficult to implement.
Hochul began announcing her health care proposals in the days leading up to her State of the State address. She is also seeking to ban insurance copays for insulin — a measure that is likely to face pushback from health plans — and introduce legislation to establish paid family leave during pregnancy, so people can take off work for medical appointments.
Hochul elaborated Tuesday on how she wants to improve maternal health outcomes. She said she is seeking to provide a financial incentive through Medicaid for hospitals to avoid unnecessary c-sections and is directing the state Department of Health to monitor which doctors perform more c-sections than others.