LI health could lose $750M in guv's budget

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Long Island's health care system stands to lose $750 million under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed budget, and the uncertainty of where the cuts will be felt deepest has hospital officials on edge and patient programs on hold, advocates said Thursday.

The governor's plan to ask a panel of health care stakeholders to find $2.85 billion in savings in the state Medicaid budget has advocates worried that impacts could run the gamut from layoffs to hospital closures.

The Medicaid Redesign Team has a March 1 deadline to submit recommendations to the governor.

"The clock is ticking here. If that target was met by unilateral cuts, then they [hospital officials] will have do what's in the worst-case scenario," said Kevin Dahill, president of the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council.

"Without any details, the hospitals are in a holding pattern," he said.

Among the immediate concerns is the "ripple effect" that state cuts to Stony Brook University Medical Center will have on community hospitals on the Island, Dahill said.

Program closures at Stony Brook would create a backlog of patients at the other community hospitals. And patients seeking the level of care unique to Stony Brook - like the burn center or psychiatric emergency room - would have to travel out of the area if those programs were closed.

"These are services that other hospitals don't have. We depend on those programs," Dahill said.

Looking to close a $10-billion gap in the budget, Cuomo proposed some of the steepest spending cuts in education and Medicaid. One out of five Long Island residents are covered by Medicaid.

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This week, the Medicaid Redesign Team released a list of nearly 300 suggestions from advocates, experts, providers and patients garnered from public hearings around the state. The list is on the state Health Department's website.

On the list is a proposal to eliminate community-based programs that identify uninsured families and enroll them in Medicaid.

Without that funding, families will go without health coverage and primary care, said Gwen O'Shea, president of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island.

It will cost the system much more, "especially if you are driving people into emergency rooms where the hospitals don't have the money to absorb the uninsured," O'Shea said.

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