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9 of Gov. Cuomo’s top health officials have left: report

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At least nine of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) top public health officials have either quit or been reassigned over the past few months, according to a New York Times report on Monday.

This comes after the state’s attorney general on Thursday said that the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes was underreported by nearly 50%. At the same time, Cuomo is facing criticism for the vaccine’s rollout in the Empire State.

RELATED: Cuomo blames Trump ‘political football’ for his nursing home strategy that killed over 12,000

State health officials often learned about new coronavirus policies through the governor’s frequent press conferences instead of receiving help in shaping such policies, The Times reported.

Simultaneously, Cuomo developed his own vaccine rollout scheme instead of using a plan high-ranking state health officials were working on that stemmed from “years of preparations at the local level” dating back to the bioterrorism fears that cropped up following the September 11th attacks, according to The Times.

“The governor’s approach in the beginning seemed to go against the grain in terms of what the philosophy was about how to do this,” Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, a former deputy commissioner at New York City’s Health Department, told The Times. “It did seem to negate 15 to 20 years of work.”

New York’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, told The Times that the situation is not the governor’s fault but rather the overall pandemic’s as the state faces “an intense period of extraordinary stress and pressure and a different job than some signed onto.”

“The Times’s point is several staff left — true, and many others joined the agency with the talents necessary to confront this new challenge,” Zucker added.

Cuomo has also downplayed the role of experts in combatting the pandemic.

“When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts,” Cuomo said at a Friday news conference, talking about scientific expertise at every level of government throughout the pandemic. “Because I don’t. Because I don’t.”

Among those who have left over the past months are Jill Taylor, head of Wadsworth laboratory where scientists detect virus variants, Elizabeth Dufort, medical director of the division of epidemiology, the director of the state bureau of communicable disease control, and the official in charge of health data, according to state records looked over by The Times.

On top of that, The Times reports that the state health department’s No. 2 official left for another job in the state government while another official who helped oversee contact tracing is expected to leave the department for another state government job, too.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Economy

Biden Administration Expands Obamacare Coverage for ‘Dreamers’

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Friday morning the Biden administration announced it is expanding health-care access for “Dreamers”, a select group of illegal immigrants brought to the country as children. Illegal immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be granted access to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, according to the White House. Beginning in November, DACA members will be able to apply for healthcare coverage on healthcare.gov and state level insurance marketplaces.

“I’m proud of the contributions of Dreamers to our country and committed to providing Dreamers the support they need to succeed,” President Joe Biden said in a prepared statement. “And that’s why today we are taking this historic step to ensure that DACA recipients have the same access to health care through the Affordable Care Act as their neighbors.”

National Review notes Biden was vice president when then-president Barack Obama created DACA through executive order over a decade ago. The program gives deportation protections and work visas to illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. An estimated 580,000 people are enrolled in the program. Former president Donald Trump failed to put an end to DACA during his term and the program continues to be fought in court.

Over 100,000 DACA beneficiaries will purchase health insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplace and Basic Health Program created by the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates. Access to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program will not be incorporated into the White House’s new rule after Biden proposed doing so last year, according to National Review.

“Now as Vice President, I have worked alongside President Biden to take steps to preserve and fortify DACA. Today, we are building on this progress by ensuring DACA recipients also have access to affordable health care, which will improve the health of all communities,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a prepared statement. “This announcement will bring relief to more than 100,000 people and help them thrive while working to achieve their aspirations.”

The White House did not share a cost estimate for the expansion of Obamacare to DACA recipients. They will be eligible for financial assistance to help them afford the health insurance DACA enrollees are now eligible to purchase.

Biden called for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and to give Dreamers permanent citizenship. It’s unlikely that Congress will grant Biden’s wishes, given the failure of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration package earlier this year. Conservatives widely rejected the Senate’s proposal for not being tough enough on the southern border at a time when record levels of illegal immigrants are entering the country.

Immigration is a top issue for voters in the 2024 election because of the surge in border crossings under Biden’s watch. Polls indicate that Americans believe that Trump is better suited to handle the crisis at the southern border with his hardline approach.

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