Northwell employees rally against Medicaid cuts

Northwell employees rally against Medicaid cuts
Healthcare workers braved chilly temperatures Thursday morning in Lake Success to protest state Medicaid cuts. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

Health-care workers and politicians rallied in Lake Success Thursday morning against state budget amendments that would lead to more than $1 billion lost in Medicaid funding throughout New York.

The rally, one of a handful held throughout the state in recent weeks, attracted many Northwell Health employees, including CEO and President Michael Dowling.

Nearly half of the care Northwell provides at Cohen Children’s Medical Center relies on Medicaid funding, said Dr. Jason Naidich, Northwell’s senior vice president and executive director for the central region.

Northwell continuously invests in improving community health, he said, through efforts such as a program that addresses food insecurity. That work is not reimbursed through Medicaid, but would still be dampened by reimbursement cuts, Naidich said.

“When you lower reimbursement further, it impairs our ability to continue to make investments for things in which there’s no reimbursement to begin with,” he said.

Medicaid is a federal program that operates state-by-state and supports elderly, low-income, pregnant, disabled, and child patients.

In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that since New York would be receiving less income tax revenue than estimated, he was slimming down his proposed budget.

Several amendments cut $550 million from the state’s Medicaid program. Since the federal government would have matched those funds, the hit to the healthcare industry totals over $1 billion.

About 200 people attended Thursday’s rally, including union leaders from the eastern chapter of United Health Care Workers, Nassau County Legislators Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) and Carrié Solages (D-Valley Stream) and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, a Northwell spokesman said.

“The energy was great,” Naidich said. “Everyone is united. This is one of those issues where we all stand together.”

The proposed cuts in funding would lead to significant layoffs at area hospitals, said Steve Kramer, executive vice president of United Healthcare Workers East. Some hospitals could even close, he said.

“We’ve seen that happen before,” Kramer said. “Local hospitals are the mainstay for certain towns and communities. That’s certainly very possible at this point. Some are right on the fringe.”

Though the cuts would impair Northwell, Naidich said he wanted to reassure patients that its hospitals would still be there for them.

“Medicaid cuts threaten our mission and our ability to care for the most vulnerable populations, but nonetheless we will never stray from our mission,” he said. “We’re never going to walk away from the people we’re committed to serving.” 

The advocacy will culminate in a rally in Albany March 19. The union plans to have more than 100 buses of protesters attend from throughout New York, Kramer said.

The union held a similar event in 2018 to push for improved funding.

“We were able to set them back last year, and we’re determined to do whatever it takes to make it happen this year,” Kramer said. “It’s too important for patient care, it’s too important for seniors and those who have chronic illnesses.”

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