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End to Medical Assistance protested


AIDS activists staged an 11th-hour protest yesterday to draw attention to the state's decision to eliminate health insurance for more than 30,000 poor and disabled Marylanders.

The cut is just one of several that go into effect Sunday. To avoid a $450 million shortfall at the end of the current fiscal year, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has cut a total of $240 million from programs.

A broad range of services will be affected, but the poor are taking an especially hard hit. In addition to abolishing Medical Assistance, the state will roll back welfare checks to 1988 levels, giving a family of three $359 a month. The cuts have inspired a spate of protests including yesterday's demonstration by ACT UP/Baltimore outside the Great Hall of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in the 800 block of Cathedral St.

Health officials at yesterday's demonstration pointed out that hundreds of people who have tested positive for the AIDS virus rely on the state's Medical Assistance program for treatment and prescriptions during the disease's asymptomatic stage. Once funding is cut, people with human immunodeficiency virus may not receive care until they have full-blown AIDS.

"Obviously, Governor Schaefer has said, 'I don't give a damn,' " said Dave Shippee, executive director of Chase-Brexton Clinic, which treats 900 people with AIDS and HIV. "Ironically, it's Halloween and it's a hell of a trick."

At Chase-Brexton, an uninsured person can get in for an appointment within three weeks. That will become 30 weeks after the cuts, said Mr. Shippee and Dr. John O'Neill, as the

clinic's percentage of uninsured patients surges to 78 percent.

"Governor Schaefer you can't hide! We charge you with genocide!" about 100 people chanted at the mid-day rally.

Advocates for diverse interest groups -- AIDS patients, the poor, middle class nursing home patients, and state workers -- are trying topresent a unified front in these protests. But the state's budget crisis inevitably divides these groups. Every time a cut is restored, state officials have pointed out, another cut must be made.

For example, protesters in wheelchairs brought attention to the state's plan to eliminate a program that provides attendants for 3,400 Marylanders. Gov. William Donald Schaefer was not swayed, but Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer Lucille Maurer decided to block the cut at the Board of Public Works.

Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene Nelson J. Sabatini then had to find $6 million to cut elsewhere in his department's budget, which accounts for 27 percent of Maryland's $12.1 billion operating budget.

He was spared from making additional cuts when the federal government reimbursed Maryland $75 million that had been withheld during a dispute over the state's Medicaid "provider tax." But the rest of that money is already committed and cannot be used for any other programs.

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