Children's hospitals beg Florida lawmakers not to cut budgets

6:12 PM, Feb 27, 2012   |    comments
Susie Elmore holds her 5-year-old daughter Brooke, who was born prematurely and spent 60 days in a neonatal intensive care unit.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's children's hospitals are pleading with state lawmakers not to proceed with proposed budget cuts for pediatric programs.

Hospital advocates gathered at the state Capitol Monday to say the cuts would threaten medical care for the state's poor and sick children. They are concerned the reduction in funding would force hospitals to close high-cost programs.

Susie Elmore of Ft. Lauderdale said her five-year-old daughter Brooke was born prematurely at 29 weeks and weighed only 2 pounds, 6 ounces. Brooke spent 60 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at Broward Health. She said the skilled doctors and state-of-the-art medical equipment saved Brooke's life.

Now Elmore is urging lawmakers to think closely about the budget cuts that could affect programs like the one that gave her daughter a chance.

"You have time to see who this decision is affecting because when you make these decisions it trickles down to the bedside, to the mothers and fathers that are praying at the incubators and the neonatal intensive care units and children's hospitals all over the state of Florida. I beg you to really think about those decisions."

Tish West of Tampa was also there with her 14-year-old daughter Caroline, who gets extensive care through Medicaid for a neurological disorder. West says her family never dreamed in a million years that they would be part of a government-funded program, but she is grateful for the care it offers Caroline.

Caroline receives treatment at a chronic care medical clinic in Tampa and West fears Medicaid budget cuts would eliminate the care that's been so beneficial to her daughter.

"If we didn't go there we would have to go to five or six doctors, which would cost the state a lot more than what it's costing to have us go to the chronic clinic. Further cuts to the hospital may jeopardize this really important clinic for all of us. I'm a realist and I understand we have to cut the budget. But please, let's not do it on the backs of children that can't speak for themselves and that have no other safety net."

The Florida House is considering $86 million in cuts to Florida hospitals, while the Senate goes further with $146 million in cuts.

The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida says the state's 14 children's hospitals would face a disproportionate share of the budget cutting and that would threaten care for thousands of children.

"Tragically, these cuts may spell the end of programs that are saving children's lives every day. Keep in mind we're not just talking about numbers on spread sheets. These cuts affect real people and real children," said Lindy Kennedy of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.

The Alliance says two out of three children treated in Florida hospitals are insured through Medicaid. The number of people in the program has grown dramatically during the recession.

Florida's Medicaid program currently serves 3.3 million people. In 2006, that number was 2.1 million.

State lawmakers have been trying for years to rein in Medicaid's soaring costs. It's the fastest growing item in the state budget and accounts for about 30 percent of the state's $70 billion budget.

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