Times-Union: Hospitals, providers urge N.Y. lawmakers to restore Cuomo health care cuts

By Bethany Bump, March 5

ALBANY — Health care workers, leaders and advocates swarmed the state Capitol Tuesday to urge lawmakers to restore $550 million in funds that were slashed from the governor’s original budget proposal to help plug a larger-than-expected revenue shortfall.

Chanting “Don’t cut health care” and holding signs that said “Some cuts never heal,” hundreds of health care workers converged at the Empire State Plaza from all around the state and then marched to the Capitol, packing Albany’s normally busy downtown with off-duty ambulances, buses and foot traffic.

Of particular concern were Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget amendments, which, together with the loss of federal Medicaid matching funds, would reduce total support for New York hospitals and nursing homes by more than $1 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.

“These are budget-driven cuts that are coming from Washington and that have come to roost here in Albany,” said Bea Grause, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS). “And we need our elected leaders to know that we are not going to take it and we are going to push back on these cuts.”

The governor proposed three amendments to the state Medicaid budget that would free up $550 million from the general fund and help plug a $2.6 billion revenue shortfall, but that would mean less money for hospitals, nursing homes and health systems.

The first would take nearly $228 million in Health Care Transformation Funding that was promised to hospitals last fall and redeploy it for housing services instead. The second would reduce indigent care payments to certain hospital systems. And the third would impose an across-the-board 0.8 percent cut in Medicaid reimbursements to providers around the state.

Together with his original proposal, the governor’s budget amendments would cut state support to hospitals and health systems by nearly $658 million in the upcoming fiscal year, HANYS said.

Locally, the largest cuts would be felt by Albany Medical Center, which would see state support drop by more than $7.4 million next year; St. Peter’s Hospital, which would see a drop of $1.8 million; and Ellis Medicine, which would see a $1.4 million reduction in support.

Advocates say the cuts will result in job loss, patient harm and economic losses for local communities.

Senior leadership from Albany Medical Center attended the rally Tuesday, and the senior team at Ellis met with their local legislators earlier in the morning.

Dick Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, said Tuesday that the proposed budget was the worst he’s seen for health care in almost a decade.

“We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to health care,” he said, speculating that Medicaid cuts were more politically palatable than school aid cuts because Medicaid is for “poor people.”

“Whether people like to say it or not, in this country, programs for poor people are often poor programs,” he added. “Medicaid would be treated a lot differently if it covered everyone in New York.”

The Cuomo administration clarified that the budget amendments aren’t cuts, per se. Rather, they are a reduction from the governor’s original 2019-20 spending proposal, which will be negotiated by lawmakers through the end of March.

“The Executive Budget includes a $200 million year-to-year increase in state support for Medicaid, even after the savings actions taken in budget amendments,” said state Budget Division spokesman Morris Peters. “We will work with stakeholders to mitigate the impacts of any savings actions, but we can’t spend additional money that we don’t have.”

The amendments, issued Feb. 15, were intended to help plug a $2.6 billion revenue shortfall that Cuomo says was largely caused by a new federal cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions. Income tax receipts from Westchester, New York City and Long Island make up a disproportionate share of the state budget, and Cuomo has said the wealthy are leaving New York because of the SALT deductions cap.