WXXI Local Stories
5:22 am
Wed February 28, 2007

Spitzer Responds in Ad War with Hospitals

Albany, New York –
Governor Eliot Spitzer's budget battle with some parts of the hospital industry is playing out in an ad war and an exchange of accusations.

Governor Spitzer has proposed cutting over a billion dollars from New York's highest in the nation Medicaid budget. Most of that money would come from payments to hospitals and nursing homes. Spitzer says he wants to steer money away from institutions and toward patients. The governor also wants to enact universal health care for the state's children.

Hospitals and nursing homes, not surprisingly, object to the cuts, and the largest hospital industry lobby group, has begun an ad campaign, which in part asks, "will an emergency room in your community be forced to close?".

The Greater New York Hospital Association and Health Care Workers Union 1199 effectively used similar ads in the past against Spitzer's predecessor, Governor George Pataki. Pataki's popularity in the polls plummeted as a result, and the former governor relented on the cuts. In 2002, Pataki agreed to a multi billion dollar plan that would benefit the hospitals and the union, in a deal criticized at the time as back door and secretive.

The current ads are different in one key way. They are not as directly critical of Spitzer, who's approval rating is as high as 75% in some surveys, and even concede that Spitzer is "right" to want to reform health care, though they say the governor is doing it the wrong way.

Unlike his predecessor Pataki, Spitzer has decided to fight fire with fire, and has released his own ad, paid for by his political campaign fund. It essentially accuses the powerful lobby group of being crybabies. The camera pans across rows of squalling newborns. The infants in the ad stop wailing and begin cooing and smiling when Spitzer's health reform plans are described. The narrator says the only people crying are the "usual special interests".

The hospital lobby responded by accusing Spitzer of "finger pointing and name calling".

Spitzer, speaking to a gathering of Mayors from across the state, made it clear he does not intend to back down, saying that Medicaid costs are "out of control".

Spitzer referred to the 2002 deal the hospitals and health care union made with former Governor Pataki, and said that would not happen again under his watch.

"It's different moment in state government," said Spitzer, who complained that the money was allocated with no accountability.

But the head of the Greater New York Hospital Association, Ken Raske, says hospitals can't afford the cuts, and patient care will suffer. He says the reductions are too severe following the recent enactment of the Berger Hospital Closing Commission report, which the hospitals did not oppose, and which will shut down several hospitals and displace thousands of workers. Raske calls it a "classic double whammy".

"The hospitals and nursing homes are under siege right now," said Raske.

Raske says the governor should go after HMO's profits, which he estimates at nearly $2 billion dollars last year.

The hospitals and the health care workers union have considerable support in the state legislature, among Democrats and Republicans. But one thing they may not have is enough State Senators for an override vote, should the budget battle escalate, and Spitzer wield his veto pen.