I recently had the privilege of testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in Montclair, and then hopping in my car to travel the highways and byways of New Jersey (which translates to the Parkway and the Turnpike, along with Route 1) to Trenton to testify before the Assembly Budget Committee. The topic? NJHA’s position on the proposed state budget for 2010.
I handed in my detailed written testimony and spoke from scribbled notes I had made on the back of something. It is always best not to read your testimony. Try to make eye contact and engage the committee members. At the Senate hearing, there was actually a lighting system, like at the presidential debates, to tell you if you were nearing the end of your allotted five minutes. (Green indicated your time was still good, yellow meant “wrap up” and red meant you were out of time). I was still in the green when I finished up.
My message to the legislative committee members was that our hospitals appreciate that, in a budget filled with tough choices, Gov. Corzine did not propose cutting charity care funding, instead keeping it at the current funding level of $605 million. The charity care program is a vital one for hospitals; it reimburses them for a portion of the $1.3 billion in care they deliver to New Jersey’s uninsured residents. I did note that by keeping hospital funding flat, we are in no way stabilizing an essential industry that has seen nine acute care hospitals close their doors in the past two years and six hospitals file for bankruptcy. I also noted that last year, hospitals were cut by $111 million, a 15.5 percent reduction, and closures did occur – the most recent just this month when KesslerMemorialHospital closed in Hammonton. Still, when the Governor is cutting funding to the arts, higher education and to some municipalities, a word of thanks is in order.
I did, however, tell lawmakers that I’m concerned about cuts to graduate medical education (which helps cover the costs of training new physicians), the Health Care Stabilization Fund (meant to stabilize healthcare facilities in severe financial distress), the Hospital Relief Subsidy Fund (which supports hospitals that serve a high number of complex cases, such as AIDS and substance abuse) and to the nursing home industry. NJHA has been working hard to identify existing state dollars that are spent on healthcare in New Jersey that might be eligible for additional “matching funds” from the federal government. We think we may have identified something, and are working through the idea with the Corzine Administration. If we are successful we can restore or mitigate these cuts.
We are operating in difficult and perilous times. For every 1 percent increase in the unemployment figures in New Jersey, another 1.1 million New Jerseyans join the ranks of the uninsured or enroll in Medicaid. Hospitals will be there to serve this population, but each year there will likely be fewer hospitals until we address the now burgeoning number of uninsured through health reform.