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GOP Caucus: Hospital Funding Major Concern In State Budget

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DeLuca McKinney  July 31

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By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee was expected to approve a spending bill that keeps one of Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s most contentious proposed spending reductions, deep cuts in state aid to hospitals.

Just like Malloy’s two-year, $43.8 billion budget proposal, the budget plan the Democratic-controlled committee will vote on Friday reduces state funding used to help reimburse hospitals for caring for uninsured patients — reducing funds by $194.7 million in the first year of the budget and nearly $329 million in the second.

It’s unclear, however, whether that cut will ultimately be in the final budget, to be negotiated by legislative leaders and Malloy in the coming weeks. Hospital administrators have warned such cuts could lead to deep reductions in jobs, programs and services, prompting concerns from both Democratic lawmakers, who control the legislature, and the minority Republicans.

“The hospital funding is a major concern of mine and our caucus,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield. “We think there are areas where we can spend less in state government and not harm the hospitals to the extent that the governor has done. … I don’t think the option is, give them less revenue or raise taxes.”

Malloy has argued that Connecticut’s hospitals will get some financial relief from uncompensated health expenses once the new health care exchange begins in January and the state’s Medicaid eligibility is expanded.

He also has repeatedly pointed out how the state has increased its funding to hospitals by 242 percent over the last 10 years and how he opposes raising taxes to cover his proposed cut _ an idea that various advocacy groups are pushing at the state Capitol.

Both the Appropriations Committee and the Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee were scheduled to vote Friday on separate spending and revenue plans, in response to the budget Malloy unveiled in February.

Friday’s meetings will set the stage for full-fledged budget negotiations between the legislative leadership and Malloy during the coming weeks. They face a June 5 adjournment deadline.

The Appropriations Committee budget, released Friday morning before the committee’s planned vote, restores funding to continue providing the state’s HUSKY A health insurance coverage to estimated 37,500 needy parents. Malloy’s budget cuts their coverage beginning Jan. 1. He contends the parents will be able to take advantage of new federal subsidies to help them buy private insurance from the new health care exchange.

But some parents say they still won’t be able to afford the premiums and co-pays.

“Basically we would go from being insured to being uninsured,” said Frances Taylor, a HUSKY A recipient from Manchester. “The reality is that people who are creating these state budgets are not in touch with families like mine.”

The legislature’s Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee was expected to vote Friday on a separate revenue bill. Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, the committee’s co-chairman, said the tax-writing panel has been working hard to “work within the parameter of the governor’s proposal” and not raise taxes. But she acknowledged there are mixed opinions within the legislature and it has been a difficult process.

While Malloy contends his budget plan does not increase any new taxes, it does extend some taxes that were expected to end, such as a surcharge on the state’s corporation tax.

In an interview with The Associated Press this week, House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he “would not take revenues off the table” as legislative leaders and the governor negotiate the final package.

“We’ve been through a few years of cuts now,” he said. “The cuts that we’re making now are no longer the superficial cuts. These are cuts that really hurt people. Are we willing to do that?”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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