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Now that Suffolk County appears to have lost its fight for millions in state funding for county health clinics, spreading the pain fairly will be tough.

The county is suing to reverse Albany's retroactive decision not to fully reimburse it for some public health spending on chronic diseases, the crime lab and emergency services in 2008 and 2009. This year, the state will also cut funding for "optional" services, such as visiting nurses for long-term care, dental work for those younger than 21, and the medical examiner's office. The total impact is a decrease of about $23 million.

To deal with that loss, County Executive Steve Levy has proposed cutting funding for six county-operated clinics by 20 percent and zeroing out funding for one in Coram, affiliated with Stony Brook University Medical Center, and one in Greenlawn, affiliated with Huntington Hospital. (The latter bears the name of the Dolan family, founders of Newsday's parent company, Cablevision, but they have no role in its operation.)

If the two clinics have to close or sharply cut services, many patients will go to emergency rooms, like Huntington's and Stony Brook's -- or flood other county clinics, which will be weakened by cuts and hard put to deal with a new influx of patients.

One solution is for county legislators to make up for the loss by cutting elsewhere in the budget. But if they fail, spreading the cuts evenly seems fairer than letting the reductions fall so heavily on just two of the eight clinics.