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Paterson blasts critics of health care budget

Lashing out at "shrill" advertisements against his health care budget-cutting plan, Gov. David A. Paterson Wednesday defended his proposal to slow the rate of growth in reimbursements to hospitals and nursing homes while dedicating more public money to preventive health programs.

He said health care special interests are making "the same tired argument" as in past years when the state was looking to erase deficits, and they are ignoring the historic nature of the red ink now facing the state -- likely more than $14 billion in the fiscal year that begins April 1.

The governor has come under stinging criticism in a series of ads being run by a downstate health trade group and Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union. One of the ads depicts a blind man in a wheelchair asking why Paterson, who is legally blind, is cutting health services.

"In this particular case, they would have you believe that to decrease funding for high in-patient procedures would somehow close down emergency rooms, lay off workers and strike fear into the hearts of patients," Paterson said in a speech to the New York Academy of Medicine in Manhattan.

"The fear that's being struck into the hearts of patients is coming from the inaccuracy of the advertising. The fact is that even if our regulations are put into effect, these hospital revenues would be cut by less than 2 percent. Hospitals are not going to go bankrupt over this plan."

Still, the governor did send some signals that health care could get a major boost in aid from the new federal stimulus package, which will send nearly $25 billion to New York over two years, including $11 billion in higher Medicaid reimbursements for the state.

The new federal health care funds are not specifically dedicated to Medicaid, leaving it up to the states to determine where to spend it.

Paterson has said he wants to use part of the Medicaid money to help eliminate some of the more than $500 million in "nuisance" tax and fee increases he proposed and to restore some human service programs he proposed cutting.

But the governor also said he intends to use "a good portion" and "a lot" of the Medicaid money for health care restorations. He did not elaborate, saying the exact amounts are subject to upcoming budget talks with the State Legislature.

Paterson's comments came as the health trade group and Local 1199 SEIU unveiled a new set of ads Wednesday to beat back what they say is more than $4 billion in health care cuts in his proposed budget.

"Tell Gov. Paterson times are tough but cutting health care is the wrong choice," one of the new ads states.

Local 1199 President George Gresham said, "With hospitals, nursing homes and home care providers already struggling just to survive, using the Medicaid relief funds any other way just doesn't make sense."

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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