Hospital administrators and other health care professionals gathered at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco today to call on Congress to preserve Medicare and Medi-Cal funding in its budget negotiations.
In the coming weeks, the U.S. Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is considering deep cuts to the programs to reduce the national deficit, but officials at today’s news conference said doing so would harm the country’s economy and its most vulnerable citizens.
U.S. Rep Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, the co-chair of the congressional committee tasked with reducing the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, said in a statement earlier this month that health care costs “are growing at what all acknowledge to be an unsustainable rate” and that fundamental and structural reforms are needed to fix the system.
But St. Francis hospital president Tom Hennessy said, “While we consider the serious fiscal pressures facing our nation, we believe hospitals and the health care field should not be the target of significant spending reductions.”
Medicare and Medicaid–which is called Medi-Cal in California–provide funding for more than half of hospital care in the state and for about 65 percent of the patients served at St. Francis, Hennessy said.
He said the programs are already underfunded for the needs of its users, and cuts would most sharply affect the most vulnerable citizens, such as seniors, children, or people who suffer from multiple chronic illnesses.
Kathryn Parkinson, a lead nuclear medical technician at San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Medical Center and member of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, said reducing funding for the programs will “in fact reduce the amount of physicians willing to see these patients.”
Parkinson said many of the people served by the programs are unable to see a doctor in a private office and have to go to a clinic, but many clinics, including St. Mary’s, are closed to new patients because the demand is so high.
Hennessy said hospitals will also “be unable to sustain their losses” and might be forced to close if significant cuts are made, and pointed out that hospitals and the health care industry make up a large chunk of the national workforce, so cuts will also mean lots of lost jobs.
“We feel that there have already been significant cuts … and we just think there’s only so much you can take out of the system before it falls apart,” he said. “If asked, we will do our part, but we’ve done a large part of it already.”
The congressional committee has a Nov. 23 deadline to issue its recommendations for reducing the deficit.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News