Hospitals take fight over budget to capitol

By KAITLYN NAPLES
STAFF WRITER
HARTFORD– Hundreds of hospital workers attended Hospital Day at the state capital to advocate for hospital funding that is expected to be cut under the governor’s proposed budget.
While advocates for the governor’s budget say hospital allocations will be level-funded, medical workers disagree since the number of individuals on Medicare is constantly increasing.
“Cuts of this magnitude will impact patient care, shutter programs and services,” President and CEO of the Connecticut Hospital Association Jennifer Jackson said at a press conference last week.
Bristol Hospital employees and officials met with area legislators to discuss their concerns and tell them where the problem areas lay. The governor’s budget proposes $550 million in cuts over the next two years to Connecticut hospitals, which means about $3.75 million less for Bristol Hospital in the next two years.
“The proposed state budget will catastrophically kill Connecticut hospitals,” Bristol Hospital President and CEO Kurt Barwis said to legislators last week.
Republican State Representative Whit Betts told hospital employees to be advocates for their workplace, and contact their legislators to give them specific details on how detrimental these cuts would be.
“Tell us what you think does not have any merit and we will lobby to get rid of it,” Betts said.
At last week’s press conference, before a packed room of caregivers and hospital supporters, Bristol Mayor Art Ward shared his story of the terrifying struggle he went through three years ago, when he nearly choked to death.
“If it weren’t for Bristol Hospital, I wouldn’t be here today,” an emotional Ward said to the crowd.
He said Bristol Hospital, the city’s third largest employer, “plays a critical role in our community,” and the state needs to keep the community hospitals strong.
The hospital’s Board of Directors Chair Marie O’Brien said Bristol Hospital, like many other community hospitals, has cutting edge technology, like the technology used for Ward when he was placed in a coma for several days to keep him alive.
“If these proposed cuts happen, we won’t be able to keep up with the advanced technology we need,” O’Brien said, adding that the hospitals will have to cut many services patients depend on.
“We’re leading the way to strong change,” O’Brien said, referring to the technology and other breakthroughs the hospital is going through to enhance its services. “Hospitals are all about their communities,” she said, “and we need to protect the funding so that they can continue to protect and care of each and every one of us.”
The Connecticut Hospital Association is stating that there is a myth behind the state switching patients from the State- Administered General Assistance program, or SAGA, to Medicaid coverage. Under SAGA, hospitals were receiving $0.30 on the $1 of cost. When patients were moved to Medicaid LIA, or MLIA, hospitals are now receiving $0.70 on the $1, which is obviously more. However, the number of individuals on the MLIA program has increased by more than 50,000 than the number of people on SAGA in 2008. Kimberley Hostetler, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Connecticut Hospital Association said recently in Bristol, that hospital losses increased from $305 million in 2008, to $479 million in 2011.
Supporters of the governor’s proposed budget have also said some hospital administrators are making seven figure salaries, and cutting those salaries could save money. O’Brien said each hospital’s board of directors goes through a strict process when forming compensation packages, which is regulated by the Internal Revenue Service. She said there are many surveys given out, performance tests and other information that is taken into consideration when coming up with compensation.
According to a statement from Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Secretary Ben Barnes “The simple truth is that hospitals have benefited from extraordinary increases in state funding over the last decade, especially in the few years since Connecticut embarked on Medicaid expansion. In fact, their funding has increased from $712 million in 2003 to $1.75 billion this year, an increase of 245 percent. Although hospital executives are now claiming they are being cut, they are simply trying to preserve large increases in state funding. The reality is that the governor’s proposal would hold them at just about the same amount of total funding through 2015 that they get this year.”