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60.3 F
San Diego
Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Budget Cuts Put Hospitals and Lives at Risk

Community hospitals in San Diego County provide vital health care services and emergency care to millions of people around-the-clock. They are where our babies are born and countless lives are saved every day. But our hospitals , and the lives of every man, woman and child , are increasingly at risk.

Recent budget cuts to California’s Medi-Cal program will put patients and hospitals at even greater risk.

In February, the governor signed into law a 10 percent budget cut to the Medi-Cal program, which serves our most vulnerable patients , the uninsured, under-insured, working poor, people with disabilities, and seniors. When these cuts take effect July 1, the likely result is reductions in critical emergency and trauma care services that we all depend on. When health care services are lost, they are lost to all of us.

The new Medi-Cal cuts will further erode an under-funded program. Medi-Cal ranks dead last in the nation in payments to health care providers. California’s community hospitals lost $2.8 billion in 2007 from inadequate payments for care provided to Medi-Cal patients.

In this latest round of cuts, hospitals are facing an additional loss of $500 million. This translates to a loss of nearly $17.6 million in San Diego County. Real dollars lost, real people hurt.

Possible Layoffs

Adding insult to injury, the budget also calls for payment delays to doctors and hospitals in June and August. For some hospitals, such delays could mean laying off health care workers, suspending services and perhaps closing altogether.

During the past decade, more than 70 California hospitals and emergency rooms have closed. Nearly half of our state hospitals are operating in the red. This affects our community’s financial health in already uncertain economic times.

While we think of hospitals as havens of healing and wellness, hospitals are also hubs of employment: payers of wages, purchasers of goods and services, and generators of tax revenue. A 2006 report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. estimated the contribution of hospitals to Southern California’s economy at just over 12 percent, with 9 percent of all nonagricultural employment.

The economic activity sustained by hospitals generates considerable tax revenue for state and local governments. Any impact to the economic health of our hospitals affects the economic health of our communities as a whole.

Businesses Would Suffer

The loss of critical health services will present an increasingly harmful public health scenario for all Californians, insured or not. Where will patients go when hospitals are forced to close, when physicians are unable to accept Medi-Cal patients and when hospital ERs are backlogged with Medi-Cal patients? It doesn’t matter how good your insurance coverage is when you have nowhere to get treatment. The business community will suffer when employees can’t get care and can’t return to work quickly.

The hospitals and health systems in San Diego County recognize that the enormity of California’s fiscal crisis will require budget cuts to all state programs, including those affecting hospitals.

But across-the-board cuts are not the answer. It is simply not feasible to cut our way out of a $16 billion deficit. A more balanced approach is needed to solve this fiscal emergency.

Dr. Arthur A. Gonzalez is president and chief executive officer of Tri-City Medical Center and chairman of the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties.


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