ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s fondness for making some state aid recipients compete for public funding might be fine for programs like economic development. But health groups, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute, say using the same approach with public health programs is unworkable and dangerous.
Besides proposing to cut funding for various public health initiatives, the governor’s budget plan also pools 89 different funding recipients into new six new components for a competition program.
Blair Horner, of the state chapter of the American Cancer Society, said the plan’s treatment of the different health care groups and their work is akin to comparing “apples to rocks.”
In one proposed pot of funds worth $70 million for chronic disease, the entities Cuomo seeks to compete against each other are involved in everything from tobacco prevention to cancer screenings to Alzheimer’s disease awareness to osteoporosis prevention.
The cancer group said cancer screening – which provides checks for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer for people without health insurance – and tobacco control face a total loss of nearly $7 million if the Cuomo cuts are added to mandated reductions looming because of the new federal budget sequestration cutbacks.
At Roswell Park, that could mean additional cutbacks to a statewide smokers’ Quitline that the Buffalo hospital runs on behalf of the state Department of Health. The Quitline office has seen its staff reduced from 36 full-time equivalent staffers in 2009 to 18 at the end of 2012. A state-issued annual report last year on New York’s tobacco cessation efforts drew a direct connection between funding cuts for programs like anti-smoking television ads to a 26 percent drop in smokers calling the state’s Quitline for help.
Laura Krolczyk, Roswell Park’s director of government and community relations, said the state has taken “a step backward’’ in funding tobacco prevention programs, which has gone from a high of $85 million in 2008 to $41 million in the current budget.
The federal Centers for Disease Control has said New York should be spending $250 million to have an effective anti-smoking effort, which advocates say more than pays for itself compared with the taxpayer costs of treatment people on Medicaid, for example, for lung cancer.
The Cuomo administration defended the proposed funding method.
“Effective programs will continue to thrive and will even have an opportunity to receive additional funding under our reforms,” said Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman.
According to the Quitline numbers provided to the American Heart Association, calls from Erie County smokers to the Quitline looking for help have dropped sharply during the period when the state reduced its anti-smoking campaigns. In 2009, 10,659 calls came from Erie County to the Roswell-operated Quitline; by 2012, the calls from the county plummeted to 4,934.
In Niagara County, the calls dropped 51 percent to 1,427 in 2012 from 2009, mirroring a trend seen in many counties across the state as anti-smoking spending dropped sharply at the state Department of Health.
“The bottom line is that cutting tobacco-control funding is shortsighted,” said Julianne Hart, government relations director at the Heart Association. She noted the nearly $2 billion that smokers pay in taxes in New York.