Colin Powell once said, "Great leaders very often are great simplifiers."
We're asking the members of the State Senate and the Assembly to be great leaders by following a simple mantra: As they grapple with the yawning budget deficit, let Medicaid dollars go for Medicaid services.
No one disputes the seriousness of the New York State budget deficit. But no one should doubt the seriousness of the impact of the governor's proposed budget cuts on hospitals. In a survey of Western New York Healthcare Association member hospitals, 100 percent responded that if the proposed cuts occur, there will be layoffs and curtailment -- if not elimination -- of services. Layoff numbers ranged from six to 150, at a time when this region can hardly afford more job losses. The curtailment of services is worrisome, too, with some services eliminated altogether. Others will be restricted in hours or availability.
The federal government, as part of its massive stimulus plan, is likely to earmark billions of dollars to New York State for Medicaid. Certainly, there will be a temptation on the part of the governor and lawmakers to take some of those billions -- as much as $12 billion -- and plop it into the general fund. But those dollars will have been earmarked by Congress for Medicaid, and should remain as a Medicaid line item.
We urge the governor and the New York State Legislature to act to ensure that all federal Medicaid dollars received by New York State through a federal stimulus package are used for Medicaid health care services and specifically to help offset the overwhelming state health care cuts and taxes that have been proposed by the governor.
What would that do for our hospitals in Western New York?
It would greatly minimize the impact of the cuts, allowing hospitals to maintain their current level of activity and service, important at a time when more and more individuals are enrolling in the state's Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus programs, both of which rely on Medicaid funding.
In a survey done for the Healthcare Association of New York State, of which our organization is a full affiliate, New York State voters, including those in Western New York, strongly opposed health care cuts in general, and cuts to Medicaid in particular. In fact, voters went as far as to say they would rather see tax increases than injurious cuts to hospitals. They realize that hospitals, in addition to being the health care safety net for so many, are also an important economic engine in their communities, especially rural communities.
So, it's vital for hospitals' Medicaid funding to remain healthy so they may work to keep their communities healthy not only physically, but also fiscally.
For our State Senate and Assembly members, the short answer is to keep it simple: Let Medicaid dollars from the federal government flow to Medicaid services. By keeping it simple, our state officials will show great leadership.
John Bartimole is president of the Western New York Healthcare Association.