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Union protests cuts in Medicaid in boro

While the reductions would affect medical facilities across the city, the public hospitals managed by the city's Health and Hospitals Corp. would be the hardest hit, as a higher percentage of their patients rely on Medicaid and the centers cannot turn away anyone seeking treatment. In Queens, those medical facilities include Elmhurst Hospital Center, which faces a $13.4 million cut, and Jamaica's Queens Hospital Center, which faces a $10.4 million cut.The state Assembly passed a resolution Monday seeking to reverse the most damaging cuts, and the state Senate was expected to follow suit with a similar bill Tuesday, but hospital administrators, union leaders and elected officials still rang the warning bell last week about Pataki's proposals. "This is a disaster," said Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), who has been involved in budget negotiations. "It's going to hurt the hospitals tremendously."At Elmhurst Hospital Center and Queens Hospital Center, any potential Medicaid cuts would likely have to be made up by taking money out of the operating budgets, said Dario Centorcelli, a spokesman for the facilities."It's going to entail some belt tightening measures," he said, noting that while the more crucial aspects of patient care would be maintained, a lack of funds might mean preventative care programs and wait times could suffer. Elmhurst, which has been expanding and adding more services recently, could finish in the red this year for the first time if the full cuts go through, Centorcelli said.Under Pataki's proposals, hospital visits for vision and dental would no longer be reimbursed through Medicaid and the medical facilities would face a new assessment tax. In addition, Family Health Plus, the program for those who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance, would employ stricter eligibility requirements and start co-payments.Pataki's cuts could also mean a loss of jobs, according to District Council 37, the union representing the hospitals' workers. The organization held rallies at Queens Hospital Center and Elmhurst Hospital Center Friday with elected leaders to gather signatures for a petition against the proposed reductions.Scarborough acknowledged that Medicaid reforms were needed to save money, but said instead of making cuts, loopholes should be closed so the system cannot be exploited. The Assembly and Senate must now work on passing a joint budget, due by April 1. If Pataki's requests are rejected, the governor can veto the Legislature's new budget proposal. In 2004, Pataki asked for similar cuts, but the Legislature decreased them in the final agreement. "Last year we were able to trim it back," said Molly Charboneau, a spokeswoman for DC 37.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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