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Health Advocates Say Area Hospitals Stand to Lose $24 Million from Medicaid Cuts

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – At a news conference late Friday afternoon in his Rath Building office, County Executive Joel Giambra stood in front of a sign that read, "Erie County government closed thanks to Medicaid."

Opponents of Governor Pataki's proposed Medicaid cuts bristle at that. They say Giambra shouldn't be pitting services such as sheriff's patrols against health care.

According to a report released last week, Western New York hospitals would lose a combined $24 million under the Pataki cuts.

Financial analysts for the Greater New York Hospital Association and health care union 1199 SEI-U crunched the numbers to determine the impact of the governor's proposed Medicaid cuts. Hospitals in the Kaleida system would be hardest hit -- with total losses exceeding $8.4 million. Losses at the Erie County Medical Center would amount to more than $5.5 million. 1199 spokeswoman Michelle Marto said it's possible the losses could put one or more hospitals over the edge and force them to close.

"New York hospitals are not competitive because of the tenuous financial situation they find themselves in year after year," Marto said. "This industry cannot withstand these cuts rolled out by the governor."

Last week, Governor Pataki met with county executives from across New York, telling them that Medicaid relief is a must this year. Later, the leadership of the State Association of Counties and the healthcare groups met, in what Marto described as an extremely positive meeting.

"We understand fully the plight of counties," Marto said. "And now the counties fully understand the impact of slashing budgets on healthcare in their localities. There's a pledge we will truly work together for reform."

Marto expressed optimism that they'll be able to come up with a reform package that's acceptable to all sides.