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1199 Begins Protests Against ‘Devastating’ Medicaid Cuts

March 5, 2019

By Steve Wishnia

NEW YORK, N.Y.—More than 500 1199SEIU members and supporters rallied outside Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx Mar. 4, protesting the Cuomo administration’s plans to cut $1.6 billion from state funding for Medicaid.

Outrage: The Cuomo administration plans to slash $1.6 billion in Medicaid funding.

“The Medicaid cut would be devastating to us. Absolutely devastating,” says Ruby Graham Joseph, better known as “Miss Ruby,” a recovery-room secretary who has worked at Montefiore for 55 years and been its union representative for 45 years.

“We’re going to see hospital closures,” Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, told LaborPress after speaking at the rally. At others, he said, “we’re going to have to have layoffs.”

The Medicaid cuts, he explained, will take $680 million in payments away from hospitals, $50 million from Montefiore alone.

Those cuts will hit “safety net” hospitals and nursing homes, those serving the poorest and sickest New Yorkers, hardest, Joseph told the crowd. As a large part of home health care is paid for by Medicaid, 1199SEIU said in a statement, they will also lead to “bankruptcy for union home-care providers who are already struggling financially from competition from bad actor agencies who do not pay required wages.”

The state Division of the Budget says New York lost $2.6 billion in income-tax revenue last year. In his February budget message, Gov. Andrew Cuomo blamed it on wealthy people moving to lower-tax states after the 2017 federal tax bill cut their taxes, but drastically limited the deduction they could take for paying state and local income taxes.

The idea of multimillionaires fleeing the state in droves is a common trope used to argue against raising taxes on the wealthy, but in this case, Raske believes it’s plausible. It doesn’t take many people “to throw the system out of whack,” he says.

“We know this mess was created by that guy in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz. Jr. told the crowd.

But health care is the only item in the state budget facing major cuts, 1199 says.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office says it doesn’t recognize the $1.6 billion figure. “The Executive Budget includes a $200 million year-to-year increase in state support for Medicaid, even after the savings actions taken in budget amendments,” Budget Division spokesperson Morris Peters told LaborPress. “We will work with stakeholders to mitigate the impacts of any savings actions, but we can’t spend additional money that we don’t have.”

The governor’s budget plan, however, specifies $550 million in “General Fund relief” from Medicaid, including lowering payments to private hospitals for indigent care and an 0.8% “across-the-board reduction” in reimbursements for Medicaid providers.

These across-the-board cuts would be devastating. Hospitals, home care, nursing homes, doctors, nurses—every part of health care would be hurt. And let’s remember that under the New York Health Act [Gottfried’s single-payer bill], we would no longer be burning $55 billion a year on administrative waste and profit in the commercial insurance system and sky-high drug prices. We would reinvest these savings primarily in actual health-care delivery and also back in the pockets of New Yorkers. — Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan). 

“These across-the-board cuts would be devastating,” Assembly Health Committee chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) said in a statement to LaborPress. “Hospitals, home care, nursing homes, doctors, nurses—every part of health care would be hurt. And let’s remember that under the New York Health Act [Gottfried’s single-payer bill], we would no longer be burning $55 billion a year on administrative waste and profit in the commercial insurance system and sky-high drug prices. We would reinvest these savings primarily in actual health-care delivery and also back in the pockets of New Yorkers.”

Montefiore social worker Laura Liebman says cutting Medicaid would devastate the people she advocates for, many of them “dual eligibles”—elderly people whose incomes are low enough for them to qualify for Medicaid to pay medical expenses Medicare doesn’t cover. This aid is essential, she adds, “so they don’t make decisions about their health based on money.”

Medicaid is “really crucial,” Liebman says, in situations where only one person in a household qualifies, through a procedure called “spousal refusal” or “parental refusal” where either their spouse or parents refuse to contribute to their medical care on the grounds that having to pay those bills would impoverish them. She just did a parental refusal for a 15-year-old girl with cerebral palsy so severe she is unable to speak. The girl’s mother, Liebman said, had just gone back to work, making enough to put the family above the income limit for Medicaid, but nowhere near enough to pay her daughter’s medical bills.

Medicaid covers a lot more than either Medicare or the Child Health Insurance Program Plus program do, she adds. It will pay for equipment such as wheelchairs and lifts, home care, hospitalization, and rehab. 

The proposed budget would also cut $240 million from nursing homes, Liebman says. “Any time you cut Medicaid, you make it very hard for the provider.”

“If we didn’t have Medicaid, there wouldn’t be any nursing homes,” says Viola Jean, a certified nursing assistant at a Bronx nursing home.

 “We supported Cuomo. We went all over the state,” she adds, showing a cell-phone picture of her holding an 1199-for-Cuomo sign. “He let us down.”

“I feel for the residents who are going to be evicted,” says Margaret Edwards, a CNA at the same nursing home. “I feel like the billionaires should pay for this system,” she adds. “If you go to Canada, everyone’s insured from the time they’re a baby. Why do we waste money on things like building a wall?”

The Bronx protest was the first of five that 1199SEIU scheduled around the metropolitan area this week, with others slated for Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, and Putnam County.

March 5, 2019

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