Spending Watch


Bulletin #12: June 8, 1999
Please, Mr. Rivera, look at the facts about Medicaid

The debate over Medicaid spending is turning into a political campaign. The union representing thousands of hospital workers in New York City has announced a $1 million television and radio buy around the state - and the union says it is prepared to spend further millions - to scare New Yorkers about the Medicaid reforms Governor Pataki has proposed.

This is the next, big step in the scare campaign that hospital lobbyists started months ago. And it follows literally a decade of similar tactics. In December 1989, Kenneth Raske of the Greater New York Hospital Association called for a $300 million bailout from taxpayers and said: "If we do not get it, I absolutely forecast major layoffs and service shrinkage." But in fact, hospital employment grew for years after that. And this past year, the number of hospital jobs grew again, by some 2,800 positions statewide.

No claim, just fact: Our Medicaid spending is the highest

The television and radio commercials are good political rhetoric. In other words, they convey a simple image that people can understand without paying too much attention. But the facts tell a different story.

Look it up: Medicaid spending in New York is more than twice as high as the national average, on a per-capita basis. Our Medicaid spending is so much out of control, we're more than 50 percent higher than the Number 2 state!

Do all those additional billions of taxpayer dollars buy better health care? We don't know. We do know that an awful lot of it pays for things we don't need - including thousands of unused hospital beds, and training for doctors who then practice in New Jersey, Florida and other states. We also know that Medicaid is among the biggest reasons our taxes remain so high in New York. And we know that county taxes will go up if existing reforms do not continue.

Dennis Rivera, president of hospital workers' union Local 1199, says the proposed reforms represent a "Let's run to the bottom" mentality. The bottom of what? Governor Pataki's sensible proposals would still leave our Medicaid program the most generous in the nation, by far. That's a fact, too. Hospital worker unions and hospital lobbyists have every right, obviously, to argue for more millions of taxpayer dollars in a Medicaid program that already costs New Yorkers some $28 billion a year. It would be nice, though, if they would pay some attention to the facts along the way.