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Bill introduced to make health care a right in New York State

Doctors, nurses, patient advocates applaud updated Single-Payer Medicare-for-All legislation

By Single Payer New York
Healthcare-Now, May 9, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Doctors, nurses, patients, senior citizens, anti-poverty advocates, faith leaders and medical administrators joined Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and state Sen. Thomas Duane in unveiling an updated and revised single-payer legislative proposal for New York State on Tuesday. More than 70 state lawmakers are co-sponsors.

Gottfried had initially drafted a single-payer plan for New York in the early ’90s. The revised legislation incorporates changes that have been made in the state’s oversight of health care in the interim, advances in how to provide medical services, and the recent federal changes in the health care system. The legislation builds upon the momentum from last May when Vermont became the first state to enact a universal health care system which the governor plans to make a single-payer system, where one program pays all bills.

“The current system doesn’t work for patients or health care providers, or for the employers, individuals, and taxpayers who pay for care and coverage today,” said Gottfried, author of the bill. “We can get better coverage, get all of us covered, and save billions by having New York provide publicly-sponsored, single-payer health coverage, like Medicare or Child Health Plus but for everyone.”

“Our current health insurance system is driven by uncertainty,” said Sen. Duane. “Will my family have coverage? Can we afford it?

“Single-payer is about removing that fear from peoples’ lives,” Duane continued. “It will allow all New Yorkers the same comfort that our seniors get from Medicare, and that our veterans get from TRICARE. It will allow entrepreneurs to worry about product innovation, not health insurance costs. It is time for single payer in New York.”

Joining Gottfried and Duane at the press conference were Katie Robbins of Health-Care Now!, Vito Grasso, executive vice-president of the NYS Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Asiya Tschannerl of Physicians for a National Health Program, Mark Dunlea of Single Payer NY / Hunger Action Network of NYS, Shaun Flynn of the NYS Nurses Association, and Rev. Bebb Stone.

Gottfried convinced lawmakers four years ago to fund a study of the most cost-effective way to provide health care to all New Yorkers. The answer was single payer, which would reduce overall health care expenditures in New York by $20 billion annually by 2019. The state study said that single payer would be $28 billion cheaper annually by 2019 than the insurance mandate enacted by Congress. In addition to saving money, single payer was the only plan that guaranteed that everyone would have access to health care services.

The Rev. Bebb Stone said, “The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has called single-payer health care reform ‘a moral imperative’ since 2008. If I want health care coverage for myself, and I do, how can I not want it equally for my neighbor whom I am commanded to love as myself?

Stone added, “We believe that the value of persons requires that each person have full access to essential services without regard to ability to pay and on terms that enhance the dignity of the individuals,” citing the church’s 2008 resolution.

The proposal would provide comprehensive health coverage for all New Yorkers. Every New York resident would be eligible to enroll, regardless of age, income, wealth, employment, or other status. There would be no premium, deductibles, or co-pays. Coverage would be publicly funded. The benefits will include comprehensive outpatient and inpatient medical care, primary and preventive care, prescription drugs, laboratory tests, rehabilitative, dental, vision, hearing, etc.

“Even if the recent federal health insurance mandates survives the legal challenges, it fails to provide health care coverage to everyone and is financially unsustainable,” said Mark Dunlea, executive director of Hunger Action Network. “Tens of millions of Americans will discover that the insurance they are forced to buy fails to pay for the health services they will need. Everyone knows that there is a better solution -- single payer, expanded and improved Medicare for all -- and New York should be the first one to put it in place.”

“The simplest and quickest way to reduce health care costs is to eliminate the money wasted on health insurance, its profits and administrative costs, and the bureaucratic barriers it presents to health providers and consumers. If we got rid of insurance companies nationally, the annual savings would be more than $400 billion,” added Dunlea, chair of the state legislative committee of Single Payer New York, an umbrella organization.

“As a physician working in the Bronx, I see every day the profound limits of medicine when patients must ration their care due to high co-pays and deductibles,” said Dr. Asiya S. Tschannerl with Physicians for a National Health Program. “And too many patients have told me that they earn just a few dollars too much to qualify for Medicaid, and are now facing the horrible dilemma of ‘Do I reduce my income or go without insurance since I couldn’t afford it?’ Enough is enough. We need a truly universal health care system like every other industrialized nation on this planet. Health care is a human right, not a privilege! A single-payer expanded and improved Medicare for all would guarantee health care for all.” Tschannerl is also a member of Doctors for the 99 percent and Occupy Wall Street.

Katie Robbins of Healthcare-NOW NYC said, “We must end funding the waste, greed, and corruption of the health insurance companies, and move these resources to funding and providing actual health care. Insured or not, the Affordable Care Act pits people’s needs against profits for corporate-run health care. We can reverse this trend and recognize the right to health care by implementing the New York Health bill.”

Deborah Elliott, RN, MBA, deputy executive director, New York State Nurses Association, said, “The Nurses Association firmly supports the establishment of a more equitable coverage system that directs scarce health care dollars towards providing universal access to high quality, cost-efficient health care for all New Yorkers -- regardless of their age, income, health or employment status.”

Under the revised bill, health care would no longer be paid for by insurance companies charging a regressive “tax” – premiums, deductibles and co-pays – imposed regardless of ability to pay. Instead, New York Health would be paid for by assessments based on ability to pay, through a progressively graduated payroll tax (paid 80 percent by employers and 20 percent by employees, and 100 percent by self-employed) and a surcharge on other taxable income. A specific revenue plan, following guidelines in the bill, would be submitted to the Legislature by the governor.

Federal funds now received for Medicare, Medicaid, Family Health and Child Health Plus would be combined with the state revenue in a New York Health Trust Fund. New York would seek federal waivers that will allow New York to completely fold those programs into New York Health. The “local share” of Medicaid funding – a major burden on local property taxes – would be ended.

Private insurance that duplicates benefits offered under New York Health could not be offered to New York residents.

Assemblymember Gottfried, in his official sponsor memo, noted that “New Yorkers have experienced a rapid rise in the cost of health care and coverage in recent years. This increase has resulted in a large number of people without health coverage. Businesses have also experienced extraordinary increases in the costs of health care benefits for their employees. An unacceptable number of New Yorkers have no health coverage, and many more are severely underinsured.

“Health care providers are also affected by inadequate health coverage in New York State. A large portion of voluntary and public hospitals, health centers and other providers now experience substantial losses due to the provision of care that is uncompensated.”