Md. groups criticize health cuts Hundreds of patients reportedly at risk

November 17, 1990|By Eileen Canzian Phillip Davis of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

The state budget cuts approved this week will deny life-sustaining treatment to hundreds of kidney patients, AIDS victims, quadriplegics and other severely handicapped people in Maryland, advocates for those groups predicted yesterday.

Buried within the $127 million deficit reduction package approved Thursday by the state Board of Public Works are the following cuts:

* During a three-month period from April to June, the state will not pay for prescriptions needed by about 14,000 people covered by the Pharmacy Assistance Program. Within that group are at least 300 low-income patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome who are dependent on prescription drugs to stave off lethal infections, according to officials at the Health Education Resource Organization.

"People may argue that if they have AIDS, they're going to die in the end anyway. But they will certainly die much sooner now," said Indira Kotval, a HERO social worker.

* More than 3,000 kidney patients dependent on the Kidney Disease Program to pay for costly dialysis treatments will lose that coverage as of Jan. 1. The federal Medicare program already pays about 80 percent of the cost, but the patients will now be told to pay at least $75 a week themselves.

"These people are practically penniless. There is absolutely no way they can pay for this," said Dr. James Carey, chairman of the state's Kidney Disease Commission, who, like many other state health officials, learned of the budget cuts only after the news appeared in yesterday's newspaper.

* Also on Jan. 1, the state will stop paying the salaries of attendants who provide two to four hours of care each day for more than 3,000 paralyzed and other seriously disabled persons who live at home. The attendants -- who perform tasks such as dressing and feeding patients, lifting them from beds to wheelchairs and manually emptying their bowels -- were supposed to prevent the need for nursing home care.

"A lot of people are going to be warehoused because of this," said Jack Prial, a quadriplegic who works at the Maryland Rehabilitation Center, predicting that many participants would be forced into nursing homes at even greater cost to the state.

"This decision is so outrageous -- and so penny-wise and pound-foolish -- that it's hard for me to talk about it," Mr. Prial said.

As advocates were expressing outrage over the health department cuts, administration officials confirmed yesterday that Gov. William Donald Schaefer had ordered $17 million in additional cuts in programs run by the Departments of Human Resources and Juvenile Services.

Human Resources will stop making welfare payments to more than 300 healthy but jobless men and women who received benefits through a program called General Public Assistance to Employables. Other cuts include the elimination of the Single Parent Services program, which provided counseling and other help to teen-aged mothers.

At Juvenile Services, the new cuts included a planned "boot camp" for delinquent youngsters, which has been postponed indefinitely.

The three health department cuts that came under fire yesterday are designed to save the state $9 million this fiscal year, which ends in June 1991.

They were approved by the Board of Public Works after being proposed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and cleared by Governor Schaefer.

Mr. Schaefer's press secretary, Paul Schurick, declined to address complaints yesterday, saying health officials had proposed the cuts and should explain them.

But at the health department, officials appeared to be caught off-guard by allegations that people's lives were endangered, and they did little to attempt to refute the charges.

Asked about the prescription program, spokesman Michael Golden said agency officials couldn't say whether any AIDS victims would be affected until they studied computer records that were not previously checked.

And of the disabled people who will stop getting stipends to pay their attendants, Mr. Golden said this: "We're hoping people will find some way or other of paying for this themselves." He acknowledged, however, that those getting the stipends had monthly incomes of no more than $359 in welfare or disability payments -- while the attendants who cared for them cost from $280 to $560 a month.

"Obviously, we had to make some very tough decisions, and we tried to make those that were the least objectionable," Mr. Golden said. But some advocates vowed yesterday to attempt to get some of those decisions overturned.

"We're going to do whatever we have to do to get this funding restored -- whether it's protest, civil disobedience or litigation," Mr. Prial said. "It won't be through negotiation, because negotiation has certainly failed."

Among those scheduled to lose benefits is William R. Fields of Baltimore, a 34-year-old with cerebral palsy who depends on a state-financed caretaker to get him out of bed each morning, dressed and into a wheelchair.

"Once I'm dressed, I'm on the go," said Mr. Fields, who has use of his hands and -- once out of bed -- can travel freely in his battery operated wheelchair. He said he had no idea what he would do without the money to pay for his attendant.

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