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NY lawmakers: Cuomo is moving to cut funds to fight cancer

DAVID KLEPPER
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FILE - In this June 27, 2016, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs legislation concerning breast cancer screenings with his girlfriend Sandra Lee standing behind him, during a breast cancer awareness motorcycle event in New York. Following Lee's successful battle with breast cancer Gov. Cuomo called for big investments to fight cancer last year, but now seeks to cut $25 million from public health programs that pay to fight cancer, diabetes and other conditions. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a $25 million reduction to programs that fight cancer, diabetes and other public health challenges — a move intended to eliminate inefficiencies that is being fought by some lawmakers and health advocates who oppose the cuts.

Critics worry the cutbacks in Cuomo's $152 billion budget proposal represent a reversal for a Democratic governor who last year made cancer screenings a key issue after his longtime companion, celebrity chef Sandra Lee, successfully overcame breast cancer.

Lee was by Cuomo's side last summer when he signed legislation ordering hospitals to expand hours when mammograms are offered and requiring insurance companies to eliminate deductibles and co-pays for the screening and other diagnostic tests. He also approved $16 million in annual funding dedicated to breast cancer screenings, money that wouldn't be affected by the proposed cuts.

Lawmakers and public health advocates say they are opposed to the proposed cuts to funding that supports screenings for cervical and colorectal cancer as well.

"It's a vital service," said Julie Hart, government relations director for the American Cancer Society in New York. "Over 25,000 New Yorkers received a free screening in the past year thanks to that program."

The administration notes that it would be up to state health officials to make pinpointed reductions to obsolete or inefficient programs, and that it's possible some individual programs could even see increased funding taken from other less valuable initiatives.

"Our proposal consolidates outdated and duplicative appropriations so we can direct more resources to our health care priorities - which include preventing and treating cancer and other diseases," said Robert Mujica, Cuomo's budget director. He said that when Medicaid spending is included overall spending on health care is up in Cuomo's budget proposal.

The 39 different programs facing cuts also include ones that support poison control, teen pregnancy prevention as well as efforts to fight obesity, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, childhood asthma and other conditions. Cuomo has called for a 20 percent reduction overall, equal to just under $25 million.

Some lawmakers from Cuomo's own party don't buy the administration's explanation. Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said the decisions about which health programs are cut and which ones are not should be discussed in public with lawmakers before they vote on the budget.

"He'll say, 'I'm not cutting any individual program ... I'm just giving the agency the discretion to move around money,'" she told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "These are individual funding streams for important things."

An analysis of the proposal by Democrats in the state Assembly found that if the cuts are administered evenly, the program supporting a variety of cancer screenings would take a $4.9 million hit. Programs targeting obesity and diabetes would lose nearly $1.5 million, while efforts to prevent teen pregnancy would see $2.1 million in cuts.

Lawmakers hope to approve a state budget by April 1.