Mackenzie Rigg & Martin Cassidy/ Hearst
HARTFORD — Hospital workers dressed in white coats and scrubs stood with state lawmakers in suits Wednesday at the state Capitol to pressure Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to release state and federal aid he has put on hold.
“I think people need to understand that hospitals aren’t a budgetary budgeting chip,” said state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, whose district includes Newtown.
Hwang was among dozens of hospital workers and lawmakers who attended a news conference organized by the Connecticut Hospital Association at the Legislative Office Building.
“We’re talking about lives,” said Patrick Charmel, president and CEO of Griffin Hospital in Derby. “We’re talking about the ability to invest in the future of Connecticut’s hospitals.”
Charmel and several others spoke about the governor’s decision to put these payments on hold. They additionally spoke about the controversial hospital tax, which hospital officials have repeatedly said has forced them to cut services and staff over the last few years.
Hospitals have been feuding with the Malloy administration for months over finances. The decision to put the payments on hold further strained relations.
But Malloy’s office said Wednesday the governor would sign a Republican bill that tackles the state’s $220 million budget deficit if it passes the Democrat-dominated House and Senate.
The plan includes restoring almost all of the hospital payments.
Malloy spokesman Chris McClure said Wednesday the governor’s office “will continue to evaluate our budget options and work with the General Assembly to balance the budget and release these payments.”
In the meantime, McClure said hospitals will continue to receive “billions of dollars from the state through Medicaid and from the state employees’ insurance plan.”
“This temporary hold of the supplemental payments is not a change to the reimbursement rate, and the hospitals will continue to be reimbursed for care,” McClure said.
Under a budget deal passed by the Legislature in December, hospitals were slated to receive $164.3 million in state and federal funds.
So far, hospitals have received $22.4 million from the state and could see another $45.8 million from federal matching dollars, according to the state Office of Policy and Management.
This would leave the hospitals with about $96.1 million less than expected this fiscal year.
Under the GOP plan to tackle this year’s deficit, the state would have to pay hospitals an additional $30 million, which would trigger about $60 million more in federal funds, according to Pat O’Neil, a spokesman for the House Republicans.
Since the governor announced the hold on hospital payments, several state lawmakers have urged him to release the money, and some have criticized the hospital tax.
In 2012, the state began taxing hospitals and returning the proceeds as a way of drawing down federal matching grants.
At first, the money returned to the hospitals exceeded the taxes paid, but in recent years, the balance has shifted, and hospitals are paying more than they get back from the state.
This year, the hospitals are projected to pay about $556.1 million in taxes to the state. So far, the state has received about $269 million in taxes.
“The hospital tax isn’t being used as it was originally enacted for,” said state Rep. David Arconti Jr., D-Danbury. “It needs to go back to its original purpose because that’s why the hospital association agreed.”
In addition to the news conference, several hundred people representing more than 50 nonprofit organizations rallied in Hartford Wednesday to protest the governor’s proposed budget cuts.
Dennis Perry, CEO of Abilis, a Fairfield County organization that operates group homes and provides respite, vocational assistance and daytime support services, attended the rally with 30 clients served by his organization.
Perry, a New Canaan resident, said it’s still difficult to predict where and how deeply the proposed cuts will hit support programs for developmentally disabled people in the area.
“We will have to figure it out,” Perry said. “Am I going to put people out in the street? I can tell you we’ll do everything we can to prevent that from happening.”
Perry said his organization, which has offices in Greenwich and Stamford, hopes changes by the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee will result in lower overall cuts that local agencies can better absorb.
“The magnitude of what they’re proposing as cuts has never been seen before, so it is very difficult to know what programs will and won’t be touched,” Perry said. “We’re very concerned about the sustainability of the funding for those in our residential programs and for those who come to us for daytime support.”