State's hospitals unite to fight Malloy's budget plan

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and representatives of the network that includes The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich are preparing to join with other hospitals around the state in taking a “much more aggressive tack” to fighting proposed cuts in health care services in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget.

“We’ll be there in large numbers to testify next week,” Bill Stanley, L+M’s vice president for development and community relations, said Friday. “These are literally life and death issues. We're taking a much more aggressive tack toward this.”

Malloy on Wednesday proposed $19.8 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. If enacted, it would require cuts to many areas of state government, including a cut of about $90 million from core health care services including funding for hospitals, according to the Connecticut Hospital Association.

The association said in a news release Wednesday that a tax on hospitals will cost the state’s 29 nonprofit hospitals $391 million next year, an amount that is “simply unsustainable.”

The association urged state legislators to oppose the reductions.

Michele Sharp, spokeswoman for the hospital association, said a multimedia campaign opposing the cuts that includes television and radio ads that began in November is continuing. It has also created a website, stopthecuts.org.

On Thursday, the Appropriations Committee will conduct a public hearing on the social services portion of Malloy’s proposed budget, which includes funding for hospitals.

Stanley said he plans to testify, along with Ron Kersey, L+M’s chief of emergency medical services, as well as representatives of many other hospitals around the state.

L+M stands to lose about $5 million in state funding under Malloy’s proposal, Stanley said. That would be in addition to the $13 million already cut in the current fiscal year.

That amount was higher under the governor’s original proposal last year, but $5 million was restored by the legislature in a special session. The new budget, Stanley said, effectively wipes out the legislature’s action.

At Hartford HealthCare, the parent of the network that includes Backus, Malloy’s new budget plan would mean a loss of an additional $20 million in the new fiscal year, according to Rebecca Stewart, spokeswoman for Hartford HealthCare.

She said that brings the total loss of state funding to the network over the last three years to more than $200 million.

“This environment makes it increasingly difficult for us to continue making investments in programs and services that enhance access to quality care,” she said. “In the end, everyone loses — the people we serve, the people we employ and the economy of our state."

Stanley said L+M has already cut programs and reduced staff through attrition to absorb the budget cuts already enacted.

“The budget cutting has gone right to the bone, and any cutting beyond this is going to be dangerous to patients,” he said.

L+M officials will be lobbying the region’s legislative delegation to restore funding to hospitals, he said.

“We want them to understand the impact of these cuts,” he said.

In addition, L+M and other hospitals plan to ask legislators to publicly state their position on Malloy’s budget plan for hospitals.

“Since this is an election year, we’re certainly going to remind our employees who’s been supportive of us,” Stanley said.

Sharp said the hospital association is advancing an alternative proposal in which all the hospital tax revenues to the state — about $556 million — would be returned to the hospitals instead of all but $165 million of it being kept by the state.

The system of taxing hospitals was created by the state as a way of leveraging federal funds.

According to an analysis by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut, returning the tax funds to hospitals would generate 6,600 jobs and bring in $35 million annually, the association said in Wednesday's news release.

"This solution would enable the state to grow jobs and revenue quickly, and maintain it — as well as strengthen our healthcare system — for years to come," the news release said.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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