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American Cancer Society: Budget cuts threat in NY

Michael Gormley, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The American Cancer Society said Wednesday that the across-the-board federal cuts that went into effect this month and proposed New York spending reductions could cost residents in the state their lives.

The group said the federal cuts alone will mean 1,670 fewer free screenings for breast and cervical cancer for New York women who have no health insurance. The federal cuts amount to a 5 percent drop in cancer screenings in New York, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget would add a 10 percent cut to the program, according to the American Cancer Society.

"The potential cuts will lead to more cancer misery for future patients and a bigger health care tab for New York taxpayers," Blair Horner of the American Cancer Society said at a news conference. "These programs have been proven to save lives and reduce the cancer burden. They deserve more — not less — funding."

Susan Farr of Saratoga County, who attended the news conference, said the free screenings she saw offered in her local newspaper saved her life. The former substitute teacher said she and her husband began struggling to pay for groceries, utilities and the mortgage after he was laid off from work. That's when she noticed a lump in her breast.

"And I was really scared," the 43-year-old Farr said. "I had two little kids, no health insurance and a husband working three jobs to make ends meet.

Farr said the free screening found the breast cancer and she subsequently had surgery and radiation treatments, also free under the government-funded program.

"The cancer services program truly saved my life," Farr said. "I believe my physical, emotional and financial life was saved by this program."

The cuts, both federal and state, are the result of years of overspending and rising taxes, sharp declines in tax revenues from the Great Recession and a slow, uneven recovery.

Legislative leaders and Cuomo are meeting behind closed doors, and are expected to propose budget changes and a state budget soon. The final product is expected to be adopted by March 21, well before the April 1 deadline. Legislative leaders had no comment Wednesday on what they might change in the health spending.

Cuomo's proposed budget would require preventive programs, including anti-smoking and other efforts aimed at certain cancers, to compete for financial support from a funding pool, instead of 89 separate line items. The governor's approach is similar to what he has done with some school aid, based on the belief that competition will make programs more efficient and result in more effective use of taxpayers' dollars.

Cuomo proposes a total spending cut of $63 million in a budget of about $143 billion for the fiscal year that starts April 1. Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi defended the governor's proposal.

"Effective programs will continue to thrive and will even have an opportunity to receive additional funding under our reforms," he said. "Replacing an ineffective bureaucracy of 89 separate programs with a more streamlined process will result in better and more efficient services at less cost."

Under state budget law, consolidating the line items also gives the governor potentially more leverage in how programs are funded since the Legislature would have fewer items to change. But it also makes state spending less transparent to the public.