Schumer vows to fight Bush’s Medicare cuts

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer vowed Monday to fight President George W. Bush’s proposed 2009 freeze o

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer vowed Monday to fight President George W. Bush’s proposed 2009 freeze on Medicare funding increases that Schumer said will cost Cobleskill Regional Hospital more than $2.5 million over the next five years.

“The administration’s total nationwide $182 billion proposed cut to Medicare would translate to more than $2.4 billion for upstate New York hospitals over five years,” Schumer said.

“This is a punch to the gut of upstate hospitals … and rural hospitals in particular,” Schumer said.

“It won’t shut us down tomorrow, but it definitely would affect planning for our future,” hospital Administrator Eric H. Stein said after Schumer spoke to reporters and local officials at the hospital. “Medicaid and Medicare is more than half our revenue,” Stein said.

Most of the proposed savings in Bush’s budget would be achieved by reducing annual updates in federal payments to hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, ambulances and home care agencies, according to Schumer.

“These cuts are particularly damaging to Cobleskill Regional Hospital … because they create their budgets based on what they expect the Medicare payments to be,” Schumer said.

The Bush budget would impose a three-year freeze on expected increases for Medicare reimbursements to hospitals, according to Steven Kroll, a spokesman for the Health Association of New York State.

“How can you expect hospitals to pay for price increases” Kroll said, pointing out that care, equipment and fuel costs continue to rise.

According to data from the association, 16 hospitals in the Capital Region would lose more than $27 million in 2009 and more than $294 million over the next five years.

The Cobleskill hospital would feel a 2009 loss in expected reimbursement of $90,000 for inpatient operating expenses, $64,000 for outpatient costs and $29,000 in hospital-based skilled nursing care, according to hospital data.

Schumer, D-New York, said he intends to send a letter to the Senate Budget Committee urging that the proposed cuts be removed from the congressional budget to be released this spring.

The health care reimbursement proposals would cost the Bassett Healthcare system about $29 million over the same period, according to Dr. William F. Streck, Bassett’s president and chief executive.

That includes reductions in aid to programs teaching new physicians, Streck said.

The 40-bed Cobleskill hospital is affiliated with the Cooperstown-based Bassett system. About 200 people work at the Cobleskill hospital, according to Stein.

As part of his proposed 2009 budget released early this month, Bush called for greater efficiency and increased competition for medical items and services.

Noting that Cobleskill Regional Hospital is in the midst of a 10-year building modernization project that has added millions of dollars in new equipment, Stein said a freeze on reimbursement increases would limit planned advances in care.

“This is an extremely efficient hospital,” Stein said “We don’t have the fat to cut.”

Schumer argues that the administration has taken “a meat ax approach,” instead of identifying specific cuts.

“If they came out with a long list of cuts, I would embrace them,” Schumer said.

“We need some way to deal with inefficiencies [nationally] … but I haven’t figured it out,” Schumer said.

While acknowledging a workable solution has yet to be proven, he said, “We have to go to some kind of universal health care [insurance].”

Categories: Schenectady County

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