2007-03-30 / Editorial/Opinion

Health Care Cuts Will Impact Most Vulnerable

The controversy over the health care cuts planned by both President George Bush and Governor Eliot Spitzer do not pit one side that is "right" against another side that is "wrong." Rather, the health care issue is one that concerns two conflicting rights. There is no doubt that health care costs at both the national and state level have gone off the chart. Something needs to be done to curb those costs that are driving up taxes. On the other hand, there is no doubt that people have an absolute right to outstanding health care no matter what their financial circumstances may be. In his budget proposal, President Bush called for cutting Medicare and Medicaid allocations by $100 billion over the next five years. That includes $2.8 billion that would have gone to New York State institutions. At the same time, Governor Spitzer proposed a $1.2 billion cut in the state's allocation to the same programs. Both politicians say that medical costs are growing faster than the taxpayer's ability to pay for them, and they are right. Hospitals and nursing homes, however, tell another story. They say that the cuts threaten the lives of our most vulnerable residents - the elderly and the poor. The facilities would receive far less government assistance at a time when healthcare costs continue to climb due to increased insurance fees, electricity, supplies, technology, etc. Local hospitals tell us that the proposed cuts would mean cutting programs and reducing staffing. The worst-case scenario is that the reduced funding could force at least one of our hospitals to close. In addition, experts say, a number of nursing homes may be forced to close as well. Government needs to bring Medicaid and Medicare costs under control. Taking an axe to the very institutions that provide care to those vulnerable residents is not the answer. There are several remedies that should be tried first; the foremost a program that attempts to curb the rampant fraud that now permeates the federal programs. Then, the HMO's and insurance that drive the entire medical field today should be confronted on their policies, which often force patients away from the best treatment to the most cost-effective. We must insure that medical professionals drive medical care rather than the clerks that now make life and death decisions on what treatment will be allowed or what drug will be paid for. Perhaps it is time for the entire health care industry to be regulated by the government. The cuts that have been proposed are draconian. Neither our most vulnerable residents nor our health care facilities can afford the hit that the proposals would cause. It's time to rethink the cuts and come up with something that will work for everybody.

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