Andrew Cuomo and Health Care Execs Just Got Dealt a Setback

New York state legislators just passed a bill limiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to shield his big donors from COVID-related lawsuits. But nursing home CEOs are still protected for negligence or wrongdoing that took place earlier this year.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing at the Office of the Governor of the State of New York on July 23, 2020 in New York City. Jeenah Moon / Getty

New York lawmakers passed a bill last week limiting a recently enacted law designed to shield nursing home CEOs from lawsuits during the coronavirus pandemic. The move followed a reporting series spotlighting how New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic legislators created the original legal immunity statute amid a flood of campaign cash from a health-care-industry lobby group that claimed to have drafted the provision.

Cuomo has not yet said whether he will sign the bill, though he has said that he “could see the rationale” for the legislation.

“This legislation will ensure that New Yorkers have a right to recourse should they encounter neglect or misconduct by unscrupulous health care providers or facilities,” said Assembly member Ron Kim, the Democratic bill sponsor who has led the fight to rescind Cuomo’s original legislation. “This is a good step toward restoring the rights of patients and nursing home residents that were taken away from them during this pandemic. Moving forward, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities will be held accountable for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that is a big win for our families, residents and workers.”

In May, we reported that Cuomo’s administration inserted a provision into the annual state budget that granted sweeping legal immunity to hospital and nursing home executives, board members, and other corporate officials. Proponents asserted that a liability shield was necessary to deal with the pandemic, but opponents said the provision was written to grant immunity for nearly all health care services. The Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA) said that it drafted the provision — and Cuomo put it in the budget after that group delivered more than $1 million to his political machine.

We also reported that GNYHA delivered $260,000 to Democratic legislative committees — and that once the legislation was passed, other states then began replicating the New York immunity provision.

The spotlight on campaign cash played a pivotal role in pressuring Democratic lawmakers to defy their party’s governor and pass the new legislation limiting the immunity law only to COVID cases.

“The (immunity) law has been shrouded by criticism of political influence on the part of the hospital and nursing home industry,” wrote the New York Law Journal. “That spotlight focused particularly on the Greater New York Hospital Association, which reported it drafted the immunity clause. The association, which represents hospitals and health systems, has pumped millions of dollars into political committees in the last several years.”

The new legislation limiting corporate immunity does not fully rescind the existing liability shield on the books, and the rollback is not retroactive. That means allegations of negligence or wrongdoing during New York’s COVID surge earlier this year are still covered by the immunity provision.

AARP’s New York lobbyist said Cuomo should “condition his approval on repeal of nursing home immunity completely and retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic,” according to the Associated Press.