Thursday, February 7, 2008

The New Bush Budget: Cutting Health Care for 9/11 Responders, Medicare, and Veteran's Health Programs

The buzz is everywhere now that U.S. President George W. Bush has unveiled his budget plan for the coming fiscal year. Huge cuts in health care spending are part of the package, and the prevalent attitude across the media seems to one of shock.

Let's begin in New York with The Queens Gazette where John Toscana addresses the massive reduction in health care funds for 9/11 survivors:

New York lawmakers in Washington who have been persistently pressing the White House for increased funding for healthcare programs for ailing 9/11 World Trade Center workers were jolted last week when President George W. Bush's proposed budget slashed those programs by 77 percent. [...]

"This dramatic and unwarranted cut flies in the face of common sense, compassion and just plain fairness," Senator Charles Schumer declared as he promised to "fight these cuts tooth and nail to ensure these heroes receive the health care they need and clearly deserve".
An editorial yesterday in the San Jose Mercury News lists some of the extensive health care cuts:
The single most damaging portion of the Bush budget is his proposal to cut an additional $200 billion from Medicare and Medicaid programs. That will cause irreparable harm to public hospitals that are required by law to provide medical care to uninsured residents. And it will further reduce the number of doctors willing to treat a growing senior population, let alone the poor on Medicaid.

[...] Cutting Medicare and Medicaid isn't the only ill-advised health care proposal. Incredibly, Bush calls for a decrease in veterans' medical programs, despite the toll of war and revelations of inadequate care.

He calls for a freeze in the National Institutes of Health budget, which will result in fewer research grants to find better treatments for cancer and other diseases. His proposed funding for the State Children's Health Insurance program falls far short of the bipartisan agreement that has the approval of Congress, including Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. One out of every eight children in the nation now has no health insurance, a national embarrassment.
The proposed cuts in veterans' health care come at a time when the Veteran's Administration is facing litigation for arbitrary denial of care and benefits to wounded veterans, an issue that will be joined in a hearing March 7th.

Next stop on the tour is Oregon's Portland Business Journal, where Republican Sen. Gordon Smith's reception of this news is frosty:
"Good policy should drive the budget, not arbitrary cuts to programs that protect our seniors, our children and the most vulnerable," Smith said in a statement. "Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid start an unwelcomed ripple effect in state budgets and doctors offices.... We should strengthen, not bring down the programs that keep America healthy."
In upstate New York hospitals are looking at a loss of $2.4 billion in funding over the next five years if the proposed budget gets passed. Christian Livermore of the Hudson Valley Times-Herald-Record brings us that perspective along with more commentary by Senator Schumer:
Sen. Chuck Schumer yesterday called the proposed cuts -- the largest, he said, since he has been in the Senate -- "a punch to the gut of upstate New York hospitals."

"Our hospitals are already struggling to get by," Schumer said in a conference call with reporters. "Many are in red ink. You put these cuts in and you're pulling the rug out from under them, not just the hospitals themselves, but the doctors, the nurses, the technicians and the people who sweep the floors at night, who depend on these hospitals for their livelihood."

Bush's cuts to New York hospitals and health systems could total $10 billion statewide, much of it from rate freezes and reductions in reimbursements for indigent care, and would cut Medicare and Medicaid by $200 billion nationwide over the next five years.
It will be interesting to see what happens when this reaches Congress. Senators Smith and Schumer are far from the only critics on Capitol Hill.

SOURCE: "NY Lawmakers Shocked At Bush's 77% Cut In 9/11 Health Funding" 02/06/08
SOURCE: "Editorial: Bush's budget takes money away from health care" 02/06/08
SOURCE: "Veterans not entitled to mental health care, U.S. lawyers argue" 02/05/08
SOURCE: "Smith criticizes proposed health care cuts" 02/04/08
SOURCE: "Proposed cuts could sting: Local hospitals face decisions they'd rather not have to make" 02/07/08

photo courtesy of U.S. State department (Official Portrait, Public Domain)

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