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Hundreds Gather in Albany to Launch Statewide Single Payer Health Care Coalition

New State Coalition Urges Lawmakers to Adopt a Single Payer Universal Health Care System

Single Payer New York Media Release
For Release: September 13, 2008

Doctors, nurses, consumers and community activists from throughout New York State came together in Albany today to create a statewide coalition to push for adoption of a single payer health care system at the federal and state levels. Single Payer NY will help coordinate grassroots education and outreach activities in support of single payer throughout the state. They already have county coordinators in two dozen counties.

"The American people overwhelmingly want health care for all. Labor, including the NYS AFL-CIO, have said they want health care to be a right through passage of HR 676. A majority of doctors now want a single payer national health care system because they are fed up dealing with the bureaucracy, delay and confusion of the private health care system. Everyone who studies the issue says of course it makes sense to eliminate the huge waste and expense of private health insurance. For once, we need elected officials to do what is right for Americans, not what is right for the insurance and drug companies," said stated Mike Keenan, President, Troy Area Labor Council and a Vice President of the Capital District Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. The Troy Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO represents 10,000 union members and their families in Rensselaer County. The Capital District Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO represents 100,000 union members throughout the Capital District Region.

A recent national survey by Indiana University of 2,193 doctors found a solid majority, almost 60 percent, supporting government legislation to establish national health insurance (NHI) -- a 10 percent increase in support since 2002. Public opinion polls have consistently shown strong public support for a universal health care system. For instance, a March 2007 poll by CBS/ NY Times found that 64 percent of the respondents said the government should guarantee health insurance for all; 27 percent said it should not. An overwhelming majority in the poll said the health care system needed fundamental change or total reorganization.

"It is critical that New York reform its dysfunctional system in favor of one that guarantees health care access to all New Yorkers," said Tina Gerardi, RN, chief executive officer of the New York State Nurses Association. "Access to comprehensive, quality, affordable, health care is a right, not a privilege, and must no longer be a function of income or employment status. We wholeheartedly support the mission of the Single Payer New York coalition to bring about change in the right direction."

HR 676 (Conyers), known as Medicare for all, has 91 cosponsors, including NY Congressional representatives Engel, Hinchey, Maloney, McNulty, Nader, Owens, Rangel, Serrano, Towns, Weiner and Velazquez.

Among the dozens of groups helping to create Single Payer New York are: New York State Nurses Association, Troy Area Labor Council, Capital District Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, Hunger Action Network of New York State Tompkins County Health Care Task Force, Capital District Alliance for Universal Health Care, Health Care-NOW, Albany Presbytery, various chapters of the Physicians for a National Health Program, League of Women Voters of Saratoga County, Long Island Coalition for a National Health Plan, Rochester Interfaith Health Care Coalition, Green Party of NYS, and New York StateWide Senior Action

"The US spends more than twice as much on health care as the average of other developed nations, all of which boast universal coverage. Why is the U. S. so different? The short answer is that we alone treat health care as a commodity distributed according to the ability to pay, rather than as a social service to be distributed according to medical need," said Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network of NYS.

"Instead of overcrowded emergency rooms, let's plan for easy access to urgent care. Instead of harried doctors, let's begin a restoration of physician and patient autonomy. Instead of medical debt forcing medical students into specialties, let's have realistic and compassionate medical education funding. A great nation deserves a great healthcare system for all. Let us begin to create the system we want and need," Richard Propp, MD, Chair Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare, Inc.

Nearly 50 million Americans are currently without health insurance, more than 75 million went without insurance for some length of time within the past two years, and tens of millions more have inadequate coverage. More than 18,000 Americans die annually due to a lack of insurance. Dr. Martin Luther KingJr. noted that "of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

It is estimated that a single payer national health care program could save as much as $350 billion a year (New England Journal of Medicine, 2003) by eliminating the system of private health insurance. As much as a third of every health care dollar going through private health insurance goes to pay for their overhead, profits, marketing costs and excessive CEO salaries. Doctors on average have to hire 2.5 staff people just to deal with the conflicting paperwork, rules and bureaucracy of private health insurance.

A key point of Single Payer New York is that private forprofit health insurance is a core problem and therefore can not be part of the solution. Donna Smith was featured in Michael Moore's movie SICKO. She and husband were forced to move back in with their children due to their higher medical bill.

"Having health insurance no longer means having peace of mind. If you get sick and you are insured you may find yourself underinsured or worse -- unable to get necessary care. You may have premiums rising so high that you can no longer afford both housing and health insurance. You may have deductibles and co-pays that effectively and efficiently squeeze you away from seeking care. You may have collectors pursuing medical debt hound you to the point of garnishment and humiliation -- as we did. You may have an employer that no longer wants you covered by the group health insurance plan with rising premiums and huge deductibles. And you may not know these things until in the grip of a health care crisis with no options and no ability to dig out," said Smith. "Half measures will not do. Universal, free health care must become reality," she added.

"A prime benefit of a national single payer system is that it would save several hundred billion dollars annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private, investor-owned insurance industry. Doctors and hospitals would be freed from the burdens and expenses of paperwork created by having to deal with multiple insurers with different rules - often rules designed to avoid payment," added Dunlea. "We are the only industrialized country to allow for-profit insurance companies to be middlemen in our health system. In their drive to enroll healthy (and profitable) patients and screen out the sick, private insurance waste vast sum on billing, marketing, underwriting, utilization review and other activities that enhance profits but divert resources from care and hassle patients and physicians," Dunlea added.

Single Payer is defined as financing health care expenditures for the entire population through a single source, presumably the government, with funds collected through progressive taxation of citizens and businesses. While the groups want to see a single payer system (e.g., HR 676) enacted at the federal level, they are also urging the state to adopt a single payer system as soon as possible. Single payer legislation (A7354 Gottfried / S3107 Schneiderman) is pending in both the Assembly and Senate. A majority of Assembly members (85) are co-sponsors of the single payer bill. This fall the State will complete a study of the various ways to provide health care to all. The Governor is then expected to make a recommendation to lawmakers.

While the United States has very skilled health providers, our health care system performs poorly, with its overall quality only ranked 37th by the World Health Organization. US spending on health care is now over 2.1 trillion dollars -- nearly $7,000 per person. This is more the double the world average of $2,571. This amounts to a whopping 15.5% of our GNP on health care -- far more than any other country -- which puts our businesses at a competitive disadvantage in the international marketplace.

A number of state legislators issued statements in support of the organizing effort.

Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried said "H.R. 676 is the best solution for America's health care system. Universal, publicly-sponsored, and publicly-funded health coverage is the answer for those who have coverage, for the uninsured, for health care providers, for employers, and for taxpayers. It's the right thing to do, whether nationally or at the state level."

"I am proud to support the formation of the Single Payer New York coalition. The 2.6 million uninsured New Yorkers can't afford to wait for a new Democratic president or a new Congress to get the health care they deserve. It is imperative that New York State act now to ensure that every New Yorker has access to high quality, affordable health care. Working together through the Single Payer New York coalition, I am hopeful that we can make universal health care a reality in New York State," said Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, lead sponsor of the single payer bill in the State Senate. Gottfried is the lead sponsor in the Assembly.

"As a strong proponent of Universal Single Payer health care, I am thrilled to hear that this new coalition, Single Payer New York, is forming. The timing is ideal, as I believe many New Yorkers and Americans now understand that we are paying more for health care than other countries, but with worse outcomes overall. It is time to turn that public understanding and frustration into political action. My congratulations and thanks for taking on this critical task.," said Barbara Lifton, Assemblymember, 125th District

"Health care is not just another issue for me, it's a value. I believe it is everyone's right to accessible, affordable, quality health care. In 2006, 2.8 million people in New York State, including 500,000 children, went without health insurance. We can do better, and we must do better. The United States Congress must pass H.R. 676. H.R. 676 would provide quality health insurance coverage for everyone for just about everything, restore our right to choose health care providers, cut red tape, save billions and end outside interference in personal medical decisions. As Assistant Speaker of the Assembly, a co-sponsor of a resolution urging Congress to pass H.R. 676, and a co-sponsor of Assembly legislation to create a single payer system in our state, I know how a single payer system could help all New Yorkers. I join with my friends in labor, the New York State Nurses Association, women's organizations, and the entire coalition known as Single Payer New York in calling for a health care system that puts patients ahead of profits," said Assemblymember Rhoda S. Jacobs, 42nd Assembly District.

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell) added, "With 2.5 million uninsured New Yorkers, we need to address this inequity as soon as possible. While we are waiting for leadership in Washington, it is important that we develop the grass roots support necessary to keep the issue of health care in the forefront. I applaud the efforts of Single Payer New York in championing the health care reform we need here in New York and across the country."