Hospitals Promise United Front Against Malloy Budget Proposal
By DON STACOM
February 25, 2013
BRISTOL —— Warning that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget would devastate community hospitals across the state, leaders of Bristol Hospital on Thursday said they would support a vigorous lobbying campaign against it.
"These are dramatic cuts that no one would imagine imposing on any other industry," board Chairman Marie O'Brien told several Bristol-region state lawmakers at a breakfast meeting. "Would you do this to aerospace and defense? To manufacturing? To financial services?"
The Connecticut Hospital Association contends that Malloy's budget would cripple the state's health care system by sapping $550 million from hospitals over the next two years.
For Bristol Hospital, one of the city's top three employers, that would mean a $3.1 million hit, forcing layoffs and shutting down various programs and services, according to hospital President Kurt Barwis.
The state association made a pitch to the legislature's appropriations committee on Friday. It's not likely to know until May, or after that, how hospitals will fare in the final version of a new two-year budget.
But association representatives insisted that unlike in prior negotiations with state government, hospital executives from across Connecticut are determined to stick together rather than jockeying individually to minimize the damage to their own institutions.
"There won't be 'winners' and 'losers' with this because there won't be any winners," said state Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, an emergency medical technician who is connected with Bristol Hospital's EMS-training operation.
"We're talking about destroying the fabric here," said Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol. "Yes, $600 million is a lot of money. But either health care is a priority or it isn't."
Malloy's budget would eliminate about $550 million over two years that hospitals would normally expect for treating uninsured and under-insured patients. The governor's budget staff says hospitals have gotten generous funding aid in the past, and should be able to handle these cuts because poor patients on the state's SAGA program have been transitioned to Medicaid. Hospitals get higher reimbursements from Medicaid.
But the hospital association emphasized that Medicaid payments still don't cover all patient costs, and said the SAGA transition benefits were eaten up by a massive increase in Medicaid patients caused by widespread unemployment.
If Malloy's budget goes through, among the money-losing operations at risk in Bristol would be the behavioral health services clinic that gets about 23,000 visits a year — primarily from poor and uninsured residents, Barwis said. Hospital staff provides counseling, medication management and referrals
"People who use this don't drive here, they walk or ride bikes or scooters. They don't have the money for a car," Barwis said.
Legislators at the meeting agreed that shutting down mental health services in the wake of the Newtown massacre is bad strategy for the state, and promised to do what they can to amend Malloy's proposal.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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