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Health Care Workers Lobby Against Medicaid Cuts

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – Some two thousand health care workers from across the state rallied in the frigid wind Wednesday to protest Governor George Pataki's proposed budget. They claim it would decimate services at hospitals and nursing homes.

As Albany police kept watch on horseback, the heavily bundled demonstrators crowded in front of the state Capitol and shouted toward the Governor's second-floor office window. They berated him for his proposed taxes and spending cuts they said would take $3.1 billion from the health-care system in New York.

Daniel Sisto, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State that represents more than 500 hospitals, says the governor's budget would make problems worse.

"We've had 13 nursing homes and ten hospitals close. It's averaged one institution a month for the past two years," Sisto said. "We know that there are probable Medicare and Medicaid cuts from Washington. While the program is growing in cost, and we need reforms, it isn't reform to simply tax hospitals."

Erie County Executive Joel Giambra has placed the blame squarely on Medicaid for the county's budget problems. Sisto said his organization is supportive of efforts by Giambra and others to lessen their Medicaid burden.

"In the case of the counties, I don't think I could be more sympathetic," Sisto said. "The counties have witnessed, as have hospitals and nursing homes, the growth in Medicaid enrollment in this state of 47 percent in five years."

Sisto says New York should demand a fairer share of Medicaid funding from the federal government.

Pataki's proposed budget for 2005-2006 would cut Medicaid spending by $1.1 billion. He's also proposing higher taxes and lower reimbursement rates for the state's hospitals and nursing homes.