Albany should look to stabilize funding for safety net hospitals

Albany should look to stabilize funding for safety net hospitals


The request came late in this year’s budget cycle, but the push to better fund New York’s “safety net” hospitals fills an obvious need. Why designate a hospital as particularly important, then hang a financial ax around its neck every year?

That’s the point of the measure proposed by state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx, and supported by a number of colleagues, including Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo. They want to change the funding structure to provide more predictable support for these hospitals, which serve large numbers of low-income, often minority, patients.

The measure, which has become part of state budget negotiations, calls for greater funding parity between safety-net hospitals, which treat a significant number of Medicaid patients, and hospitals that treat wealthier clients. It would affect 32 general hospitals across the state. In western New York, they include Erie County Medical Center and UPMC Chautauqua in Jamestown. Certain types of hospitals would not qualify, including those that are part of large private health systems.

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As it stands, funding for those hospitals is subject to the torture of annual budget negotiations, putting the medical care of poor New Yorkers at increased risk. Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature agreed to $700 million. This year… who knows?

The value of greater predictability begins with an improved ability to plan—and thus, provide care—but it doesn’t end there. Advocates also say Washington rewards that greater stability with increased Medicaid dollars, seeing the approach as a more efficient use of those funds.

Twenty-one other states use a similar model, said Sen. Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn, a co-sponsor of the bill, and they qualify for more Medicaid reimbursement from the federal government, he said. Rivera thinks New York could benefit from $3 billion in federal funding.

Importantly, the bill includes transparency measures to protect against wasteful spending. Among them is a requirement to document how the funding has improved access and quality of services. This information would be posted publicly.

“We think it’s time for us to end the one-off deals and look for some structural changes,” Myrie said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Why do hospitals that serve mostly black and brown people — and in many cases poor people — remain at the bottom of the priority list for this state?’ “

It’s a question that demands an answer – and a change.

New York should quickly explore this option and, if its benefits are as presented, adopt it or something similar. It can leverage the experience of those 21 countries for best practices. But there is little sense in identifying hospitals as particularly deserving of attention and then making them beg for it year after year.

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