Kennedy Blasts GOP's Medicare Cuts

Medicare and Medicaid budget cuts proposed by congressional Republicans would unfairly burden the poor and elderly and wreak havoc on the Massachusetts economy, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II (D-Mass.) said at Cambridge Hospital yesterday.

Speaking to approximately 75 Cambridge residents, state legislators and officials at a town hall meeting, Kennedy said Massachusetts would be the victim of $20 to $30 billion in combined cuts, resulting in the direct loss of 70,000 jobs and over 165,000 secondary jobs if $452 billion in proposed GOP cuts go through.

"[Republicans] are willing to cut taxes that line their own back pockets, and are willing to gut a health care system that affects the elderly and the poor," Kennedy said.

Under the GOP's seven-year plan Medicare would be cut by $270 billion from President Clinton's proposal of $1.9 trillion. Republicans also propose slashing Medicaid $180 billion, leaving $900 billion in funding for the entitlement program, according to Kennedy.

Kennedy joined Robert Restuccia, executive director of Health Care for All, in criticism of Republican Governor William F. Weld '66 for supporting cuts which may lead to over 265,000 jobs lost in the Bay state.

"Why are the Republicans giving 80 percent of the proposed tax cuts to people with incomes over $200,000?" Kennedy asked.

"Governor Weld is being shortsighted and unrealistic as to what these cuts will do to the Massachusetts economy," he said.

Kennedy said a large portion of the Massachusetts economy is based in the health care industry, and said that the Medicare and Medicaid cuts will undermine this base.

Weld's office declined to comment.

Hospital administrators at the meeting argued that the health care industry will not be able to operate under the planned budget.

"We cannot sustain these cuts," said Cambridge Hospital CEO John M. O'Brien. "Public hospitals will be hardest hit."

Both Cambridge and Mt. Auburn Hospital receive nearly half of their payments through Medicare and Medicaid, according to O'Brien.

Hospitals and the health industry are not the only ones that will be affected by the cuts, O'Brien said. The elderly and the poor, recipients of Medicare and Medicaid payments, will be directly hit, he said.

"If you are poor and pregnant, you will no longer have a right to health care," Restuccia said.

Officials estimate that 45 million Americans are without any form of health coverage. That number would increase to 65 million if the GOP Medicare and Medicaid budgets pass, Restuccia said.

"We should look at people as people, and not at how much money they make," argued former Cambridge Mayor Barbara Ackerman.

Kennedy encouraged the health care industry to take a more active role in protesting the Republican cut backs.

He predicted, however, that "we will begin to see doctors, educators, and the health care industry begin to mobilize once they realize the seriousness of the situation.