This budget season in New York, the healthcare lobby has been responding to a proposed $1.3 billion cut in Medicaid, including $1 billion in cuts for hospitals and nursing homes, in its traditional fashion with a direct-to-the-public media and grass-roots campaign.
What was completely unexpected was newly elected Gov. Eliot Spitzers counterpunch: It both echoes his days as an aggressive state attorney general and also rips a page from the powerful lobbys book by taking his case directly to the public.
The in-each-others-face brawl highlights how Medicaid is increasingly becoming a hot-button issue for states struggling to constrain their budgets. Personally, Im a longtime supporter of the governor. I admire him and generally I wish him the best, but I think he is wrong here, said Stanley Brezenoff, president and chief executive officer of four-hospital Continuum Health Partners in New York. I wish we were engaging directly on the issues, but its certainly his right to take his case to the public, as it is our right.
Last month the Healthcare Education Projectthe joint initiative of the Greater New York Hospital Association and Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Unionlaunched what it described as a wide-ranging campaign to educate New Yorkers about the devastating effect that Spitzers cuts would have on the healthcare community, especially in combination with an additional $1.2 billion in cuts proposed by President Bush in his 2008 budget. The Put Patients First campaign includes statewide television advertisements that are also available for viewing on a Web site, (stopthecuts.org), direct mail, and a door-to-door outreach program. In addition, a steady stream of news releases is addressing the Top 10 Reasons why the New York State Legislature should put patients first by rejecting Governor Spitzers proposed healthcare cuts.
Earlier this month, the Healthcare Association of New York State released a report on Medicaid costs, arguing that its cost growth in recent years has paralleled the growth of Medicaid enrollment and has also been driven by pharmaceutical and other costs. And last week the association organized a rally in Albany of more than 3,000 workers from 150 facilities to protest the proposed cuts.
To talk about Medicaid costs as running wild over the rate of inflation fails to take into account increased coverage, Brezenoff said. Lots of us have been pushing for the reform of Medicaid, but it does not appear to me that the resources that are being cut are in any significant way being reapplied to healthcare.
Spitzer has fired back with his own television advertisement, news releases and campaign stumping. Last week he touted the endorsement of his patient-centered efforts to reform New Yorks healthcare system by a coalition of patient advocates, including the Alzheimers Association, American Cancer Society and American Diabetes Association.
In the television advertisement sponsored by Spitzer and referred to in some circles as the crybaby ad, the camera sweeps over a hospital nursery full of crying babies as a voice-over says, In New York we fund a healthcare system that rewards institutions, insurance companies and unions, not patients. As the screaming babies begin to quiet, the voice-over explains how Spitzers plan puts money where it belongstoward bringing patient care up and disease down. After also explaining Spitzers plans to expand childrens health insurance, the voice-over concludes, And the only people crying about that are the usual special interests.
Spitzers campaign fund spent $600,000 on the ad, which ran throughout the state, said Jennifer Givner, a Spitzer spokeswoman. It can be viewed on the Spitzer2010.com Web site. Brian Conway, a GNYHA spokesman, declined to specify what the Healthcare Education Project is spending on its campaign, but he said the cost was substantial.
But in an open letter to more than 1,000 hospital trustees statewide, as well as the CEOs on GNYHAs board, including Brezenoff, Spitzer asked how hospitals can claim poverty and demand billions of dollars in state subsidies while maintaining a $65 million education fund, contribute $22.5 million in (sic) to political campaigns since 1999, and spend $12.7 million on lobbying since 2003? The lobbys only solution for reform, Spitzer wrote, is the so-called Berger Commission recommendations, which call for closing nine hospitals statewide and major reconfigurations at another 48.
Spitzer also said the statewide effect of the budget cuts on hospitals would be $302 milliona reduction of 0.2% of hospitals operating revenue. The hospital lobby disputes that.