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February 18, 2008

Schumer vows to fight health cuts

COBLESKILL _ Sen. Charles Schumer said Monday that upstate hospitals stand to lose millions of dollars in federal funding under President Bush's federal budget for next year.

Speaking to health-care officials, community leaders and media at Cobleskill Regional Hospital, Schumer said 118 hospitals in seven upstate regions will lose $239 million next year and more than $2.4 billion during the next five years.

Hospitals in The Daily Star's circulation area stand to lose $3.67 million next year and $46.1 million over five years, according to Schumer.

Schumer pledged to spend the next several months fighting the cuts. He told the audience of about 30 that he was optimistic the funding could be restored before next year's budget was formally adopted.

The senator said the cuts would have a greater impact on upstate and rural hospitals than on health-care facilities elsewhere.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said. "They just took a meat axe to the spending."

Asked later if his concerns were partisan, the Democratic senator said they were not; he charged that the administration had not studied ways to cut spending without jeopardizing the quality of care.

"These cuts are just not logical," he said.

Schumer said he would embrace "rational" cuts and/or ways to improve efficiencies.

"I can't understand why we can't have a single medical form," Schumer said. "Every insurer has its own. Having a standardized form would save $150 billion each year."

There were no cuts in spending for the health insurance industry or the large drug companies in the president's budget, he said.

The federal budget does not include inflationary adjustments for Medicare, although health-care costs are increasing, according to Schumer. Hospitals will be responsible for covering the difference.

Cobleskill Regional Hospital Administrator Eric Stein said Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements account for more than one-half of the local hospital's revenue. The hospital is a member of the Bassett Healthcare group, which also depends heavily on the two federal programs.

The president's proposed spending plan also cuts Medicare payments to teaching hospitals, such as Bassett. Chief Executive Officer Mike Stein said that cut would trim another 10 percent from the facility's revenue.

Reductions are also planned in payments some hospitals receive for providing services to low-income areas. Additionally, the budget proposes to trim by 5 percent federal spending that helps hospitals pay for capital costs, such as new equipment.

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