News, Patient Care

Medicare Cuts Would Cost Central N.Y. Hospitals $357M Over Five Years

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Central New York hospitals would lose $357 million over the next five years under President Bush’s plan to reduce federal spending on Medicare, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday.

President Bush said this week he wants to cut $182 billion from Medicare spending nationwide as part of a proposed $3.1 trillion budget for fiscal 2009.

Schumer, D-N.Y., grilled the Bush administration’s top health care official at a Senate committee meeting Wednesday, and later promised that he would do everything he could to restore the money.

Although President Bush has proposed steep cuts to Medicare in the past, only to see Congress restore the money, Schumer said this year’s proposal was the most drastic.

“This is one of the worst things to come out of Washington affecting Upstate New York since I’ve served in the Senate,” Schumer said.

“There have never been, at least as long as I have been in Congress, cuts to this extent,” he said. “It will hurt senior citizens, it will hurt the disabled and it will hurt jobs in Upstate New York because our hospitals will be devastated.”

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt defended the proposed cutbacks in a blog post Wednesday.

He said the budget proposed this week is “admittedly aggressive” but for a good reason.

“Medicare makes up 56 percent of the $737 billion we spend.” Leavitt said of his department. “I said at a news conference our proposal should be viewed as a stark warning. Medicare, on its current course, is just 11 years from going broke.”

Leavitt added, “Systems as big and complex as Medicare don’t turn on a dime. We need to start dealing with this. I’m certainly not the first person to warn of this. Part of the problem is that the entire country has been desensitized, numbed actually, by a repeated cycle of alarms and inaction.”

The four hospitals in Syracuse stand to lose $243.9 million in Medicare payments over five years, according to an analysis provided to Schumer by the Healthcare Association of New York State:

St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center would lose $7.6 million in fiscal 2009 and $89.1 million over five years.

University Hospital and SUNY Upstate Medical University would lose $7.8 million in fiscal 2009 and $88.4 million over five years.

Crouse Hospital would lose $4.3 million in fiscal 2009 and $48.9 million over five years.

Community General Hospital would lose $1.5 million in fiscal 2009 and $17.3 million over five years.

In Oswego County, Oswego Hospital would lose $6.9 million over five years and A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital in Fulton would lose $4.5 million over the same period, according to the analysis.

In Cayuga County, Auburn Memorial Hospital would lose $9.4 million over five years.

Overall, Upstate New York hospitals would lose $2.4 billion over the next five years, Schumer said.

Medicare payments would be reduced to hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, inpatient rehabilitation centers, ambulance services and other providers.

Phil Schaengold, senior vice president for hospital affairs and chief executive officer at University Hospital, said he understands the need to address Medicare costs. But he said the Bush administration approach would be “draconian” in the way it affects those least able to afford health care.

“You can imagine how devastating this would be for a safety net hospital and academic teaching hospital,” Schaengold said. “We simply cannot absorb that kind of reduction and meet community expectations. These sorts of cuts truly are potentially devastating to the Central New York community.”

Schaengold said the only way University Hospital could survive such cutbacks would be to cut programs that serve the poorest patients.

“You are now risking the well-being for the most vulnerable members of our communities,” he said.

Schumer said he had no doubt the steep cuts would lead to a decline in patient services.

“It cuts a vital lifeline to Upstate New York hospitals,” Schumer said. “Our hospitals are already struggling to get by, and this pulls the rug out from under all of them.”

The proposed budget cuts come at a time when New York hospitals have lost money for nine consecutive years.

Schumer, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee which oversees spending on health care, said he will use his influence to try to restore the money. He asked Leavitt about the cuts at a committee meeting Wednesday.

“We’re going to fight it every step of the way,” Schumer said. “Upstate hospitals depend on the funding of Medicare and Medicaid to survive.”