In response to:
Emergency Responder from the May 14, 2020 issue
To the Editors:
Michael Greenberg’s take on Andrew Cuomo’s political sleight of hand during the Covid pandemic, as well as the governor’s leadership failures and achievements [“Emergency Responder,” NYR, May 14], is welcome, but leaves out two important factors contributing greatly to New York’s current health care crisis. First, Cuomo has pushed for Medicaid cuts since he took office in 2011, and in the midst of the pandemic passed a state budget that included $400 million in reduced payments to hospitals, many of which rely on state aid to serve our very poorest citizens, who are hardest hit right now. Second, while news media like to focus on Cuomo’s seemingly heroic scramble to find temporary hospital beds during the crisis, few acknowledge that during his tenure he has both tacitly and actively approved very unpopular hospital closures and consolidations. In fact, New York has lost over 20,000 hospital beds and more than twenty hospitals statewide over the last two decades. Now more than ever, it is important to be crystal clear about the long-term negative effects of New York’s choosing draconian “cost-saving” austerity policies and public/private deals over its bottom-line responsibility to ensure lifesaving health care for those who require it most. Cuomo needs to tax New York’s millionaires and billionaires much more aggressively and stop ravaging the state’s already compromised public health care system if he really wants to defray public costs and help people. He also needs to be honest about his well-documented failure to tackle the systemic inequalities that plague our state, rather than seize on moments such as this to make political hay.
Long Island City, New York
Michael Greenberg replies:
I thank Terry Roethlein for his excellent letter. I share his misgivings about some of Governor Cuomo’s policies, and I, too, took note of a few mean-spirited laws in the recent budget he was able to ram through the state legislature on April 3, while the pandemic was at its peak in New York. Fortunately, the $400 million decrease in state Medicaid payments to public hospitals has been delayed, mainly because it threatened New York’s eligibility for federal coronavirus funds. The cut should be eliminated entirely and more funding added. Let’s hope that Cuomo and the legislature now understand the grave danger of weakening the public hospital system at the same time that private hospitals grow more “efficient” by scaling back their number of beds.
For the purposes of my article I decided to leave these issues aside. My aim was to reflect, in real time, Cuomo’s performance during the shattering period of mid-March to mid-April: his costly and incomprehensible delay in closing down New York, his panicked efforts to keep the health care system from collapsing, and his moments of inspired frankness, while we impotently watched from the solitude of a shared nightmare.
One senses that a powerful shift in political consciousness is taking place, without knowing where it will lead. At the same time, we are entering a period of eye-watering deficits. Even with federal aid (if it ever comes), spending cuts loom. It will be up to New Yorkers to ensure that they don’t fall on the working poor who have shouldered (and continue to shoulder) the pandemic’s most brutal consequences. A more aggressive tax on New York’s wealthiest class and a permanently equitable health care system are good places to start.