New York hospital executives and union workers today filled the 20,000-seat Pepsi Arena in Albany and overflowed to an outside area to protest proposed Medicaid cuts that healthcare leaders describe as Draconian. Rally organizers reported that approximately 900 buses filled with hospital workers arrived from New York City, and they estimated that nearly 40,000 people attended. A slew of hospital CEOs, state lawmakers and union leaders took to the platform as the crowd chanted, "Put your hands in the air for quality care" and "Job-killing cuts, they've got to be nuts." The rally, which began in the arena at 11:30 a.m., turned into a march on the capital through a spring snowfall at 1:30 p.m. Over the weekend the same arena hosted the quarterfinals of the NCAA basketball tournament. "Do you know what (NCAA) means?" shouted New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, pointing to the still-flying NCAA banners. "No cuts at all."
Healthcare leaders estimate that hospitals collectively will lose $596 million in the proposed budget's first year and $682 million in the second. As a counterproposal, the Greater New York Hospital Association and Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union suggest the state instead raise revenue through a surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers and a closing of corporate tax loopholes. -- by Cinda Becker