New York: Gottfried, Perkins introduce universal health care bill

By Clara A. Smith
The Legislative Gazette (Albany, N.Y.), March 11, 2013

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Sen. Bill Perkins have unveiled a bill that, if adopted, would create a new single-payer health plan called New York Health.

The health plan, designed to provide widespread health care for all New Yorkers, would provide health coverage regardless of employment, wealth, age, income or any other factor. The plan would replace private insurance coverage with universal coverage for all New Yorkers.

"Health care should be a right, not a privilege," said Gottfried, the Assembly Health Committee chair. "Coverage should be driven by the needs of patients, not insurance companies and stockholders. You and your doctor work to keep you healthy. New York Health will pay the bill."

Coverage for health care would be publicly funded under the new health plan and would include a benefits package more inclusive than most health plans currently offered. Instead of patients and employers paying deductibles, premiums and co-pays, coverage would be funded through a graduated tax on income, based on ability to pay, according to the sponsors of the legislation.

"There would be two basic sources of revenue; one would be a payroll tax that would be paid primarily by employers that would be on all payroll income and progressively graduated so that higher wage and [salary] earning employees would pay a higher percentage than lower," Gottfried said at a press event announcing the introduction of the bill. "The second revenue source would be a surcharge on the state income tax on taxable interest dividends, capital gains … that is important because our wealthiest earners in our society, their wealth doesn't come from a salary, it comes from interest in dividends and capital gains."

Perkins, in a letter advocating for the bill that was sent to fellow Senate members, describes current federal health care as having made improvements over the years but unfortunately still gives insurance companies too much control of "our health and our wallets." He said that currently patients and their doctors are forced to figure out what is covered under insurance companies while trying to get reimbursed.

"Health care should be about health, not profit," Perkins said at the press event. "For some this may be a new issue, but this issue has been around for years and it's time has come. In fact, it has more than come. I have always advocated that your health is your wealth and I am proud to sponsor this bill."

The bill, (A.5389/S.2078) notes that all New Yorkers would be covered for "medically necessary services," such as preventative, specialist and primary care; mental health; dental; reproductive health care; medical supply costs and prescription drugs.

"Right now, five New Yorkers die every day due to lack of health care and many go bankrupt from medical bills. That is unacceptable and inhumane," said Laurie Wen, executive director of Physicians for a National Health Program. "A universal, publicly financed health care system would save lives [and] money. It's a win-win situation for patients, physicians and our economy."

All New Yorkers under the plan would choose a primary care practitioner or other provider of their choice to "provide care coordination." This move is meant to help patients get the care and follow-up attention they need so they can successfully navigate the new health plan system.

"New Yorkers — as individuals, employers and taxpayers — have experienced a rapid rise in the cost of health care and coverage in recent years," as stated in a sponsor memo submitted by Perkins. "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."

In 2009, The New York State Department of Health and Department of Insurance, based on a study by the Urban Institute, released a report that declared single-payer plans the "most cost-effective way to provide health care to all New Yorkers."

"Single-payer health care is just, simple, clear and efficient," Dr. Paul Sorum of Albany Medical Center said at the press event. "We ask the state legislature and the governor to save the physicians and patients of New York state to allow the physicians to take care of patients not insurance companies, to be a beacon for the rest of the country, to lead us into universal single-payer health care."

If passed, this bill would be the second of its kind enacted in the United States. Vermont, in 2011, enacted legislation called "Green Mountain Care" that is set to create the first functional single-payer health care system within the next several years.

Gottfried clarified at the event that if the bill is passed it will take a few years for New York to get the proper systems ready to implement the plan ready.

The bill is currently co-sponsored by 83 other legislators.