What Happened on Election Day – and What It Means for Healthcare Policy in New York State
November 09, 2018
As pundits continue to argue about the nature and extent of the “Blue Wave” that did or did not wash across the country this past Election Day, its impact in New York State was undeniable. What happened in New York on Tuesday was notable for several reasons. First, according to the New York State Board of Elections (BOE), the state had the highest voter turnout for a midterm election since 1994. BOE data illustrates over 45% of active NYS voters cast ballots in congressional, state legislative and gubernatorial races, before any absentee ballots are even considered. Second, the election results represent a historic shift in the balance of power for the NYS Legislature, returning control of the State Senate to the Democrats for the first time since 2010, and for only the third time in the last half century.
While the Senate Democrats only needed one additional seat to achieve majority control of the Senate, it appears they secured a total of eight additional seats, bringing the conference majority to 39 of the 63 seats in the chamber, excluding Senator Simcha Felder, who while nominally a Democrat has until now conferenced with the Republicans. However, results for two of these races are very close and the final outcome will be determined following the tabulation of all the absentee ballots and potential recounts. According to BOE results available at this juncture, the eight seats that shifted to the Democrats include:
Another seat, the 41st District held by Republican Susan Serino, appears at this point to remain in her hands, although an absentee ballot count is pending.
Similarly significant changes occurred at the Congressional level, where former Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle was elected to fill Louise Slaughter’s seat in Rochester, and three other seats shifted from the Republicans to the Democrats. However, other races generally ended predictably. The Governor, Comptroller and Attorney General all remain Democratic, and the Democrats in the State Assembly continue to have a super-majority with 107 of the 150 seats.
A more detailed chart containing a more comprehensive recap of all of the election results is available here. Significant party changes are noted in yellow, new members are highlighted in blue, and members who ran unopposed are noted with an asterisk.
Implications — What This Means for Healthcare Policy
Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, (35th Senate District, Yonkers) will become New York’s first female Majority Leader and the Senate will announce additional leadership posts, committee chairs, committee assignments and staff changes/additions. While many anticipate that former ranking committee members may be named as the chairs of their committees, it is uncertain how this may be addressed given the seniority of the various members, the former alignment of some members with the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference or the Republicans more generally, and the potential needs of the newly elected members. There has even been some talk of Republican senators switching parties.
However, one thing is clear: the return to one-party rule and the displacement of certain key senators, including Kemp Hannon, former long-time Chair of the Senate Health Committee, will no doubt cause reverberations in the healthcare space. For one, there will be the inevitable challenges faced by any new leadership – namely, the loss of institutional knowledge (keeping in mind, e.g., that Senator Hannon served as Health Chair for most of the last quarter-century) and the need to staff up, and the jockeying for position and profile among new members, where it remains to be seen which of the new majority senators will become the most prominent advocates for each of the various sectors of the healthcare industry.
Moreover, one can expect the issues that will be considered during the 2019-20 Legislative Session to be far more progressive than in years past. There will likely be serious consideration of such issues as single-payer healthcare, codifying reproductive rights and comprehensive contraception coverage, and the legalization of marijuana. Notwithstanding that the Executive, Senate and Assembly are all under one party-rule, there will also likely be intraparty differences that will come into play and will need to be balanced out, such as the needs of the New York City liberals and the needs of more moderate members from upstate and the suburbs.
Governor Cuomo has made it clear his first priority will be to pass the Reproductive Health Act, to make good on his campaign promise to codify Roe v. Wade in New York within the first 30 days of the new Session. Additionally, the Governor has also signaled that the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, which would codify a current Executive order and statutorily require insurers to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices at no cost to consumers, and legislation to address New York’s maternal mortality rates, are also among his top priorities. Other key legislative initiatives identified by the Governor include the Dream Act, which would provide financial aid to students who came to the country illegally; the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse; ethics reform, including the closing of the LLC loophole; legalization of recreational marijuana; congestion-pricing to bring additional funding to the ailing Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and, increased gun control measures. Some of these are more clearly connected to healthcare policy than others, but in the ebb and flow of legislative negotiations, any of them could impact the advancement of otherwise unrelated health policy goals.
Senator Stewart-Cousins and Senator Rivera are also both on record stating that their top legislative priorities would include enacting the New York Health Act, which would create a single-payer healthcare system. This legislation has been a long-time priority for Assemblymember Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, and it has been passed by the Assembly in each of the past four sessions. Additionally, Senator Rivera has stated that passing Dakota’s Law, which addresses ongoing lead poisoning and remediation issues, is another of his top legislative priorities.
One of the dynamics to watch in the year ahead is the extent to which policymakers are able and willing to maintain their prior commitments in the healthcare space. To some extent, the Republican majority in the Senate provided some cover to the Governor and the Assembly, allowing them to advance politically useful but otherwise problematic legislation that they knew would never be approved by the Senate. Now, that check no longer exists. This may create a particular challenge for the Executive branch, which is ultimately responsible for implementing enacted legislation, and which therefore has an institutional interest in preserving the public fisc.
We will continue to monitor events and report back on key developments. If you have any questions or would like additional information on any of the above-referenced issues, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.