New push for state-funded health care

By Kelly Fay
The Legislative Gazette (Albany, N.Y.), May 6, 2014

Lawmakers, patients and health providers are urging the Legislature to pass a bill they say would provide every New Yorker with the basic human right to health care. Advocates rallied outside the Capitol Tuesday demanding the state adopt a single-payer system of health insurance and put "patients before profits."

The universal health insurance bill, also known as New York Health, would streamline coverage for New Yorkers by replacing existing private and state health care programs with one universal program paid for by the federal and state governments. In order to do so, the state will need a waiver so that federal funding streams for specific programs can be pooled and applied toward statewide health coverage.

The concept for the bill (A.5389-a/S.2078-a) was initially introduced 23 years ago, and passed in the Assembly in 1992. However, it has not been brought to the floor for a vote since. Currently, New York Health has received the official support of 72 assembly members, but activists are confident it would pass if a vote is allowed.

Chair of the Assembly Health Committee and sponsor of the legislation Richard Gottfried said great strides were made with the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, but more needs to be done.

"What is now crystal clear to everyone is that while you can patch it up, the system still does not work," said Gottfried, D-Manhattan. "We do not need health insurance companies. We need to recognize that health care is a human right, not a commodity."

Similar measures have been introduced in 26 states, but only one — Vermont — has passed legislation instituting a single-payer program. Vermont is expected to launch the program in 2017 once it has received the proper federal waivers. In California, the Legislature has passed universal health care bills twice, but the legislation did not receive the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

According to a 2009 study by the Urban Institute and funded by the New York state Legislature, the state could cut health care expenses — whether agency, employer or individual — by $20 billion if a single payer program were adopted.

According to Laurie Wen, executive director of the NY-Metro chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, under a single payer system, some people, primarily wealthier individuals, may see an increase in taxes. However, she explained, other costs such as deductibles, premiums, out-of-network charges and co-pays would no longer be an issue.

More importantly, she said, the system would save the lives of six people a day who die because they do not have health coverage, and provide everyone with the same freedom of choice when choosing a physician.

"This is the most momentum we have had for this campaign in the last 22 years," Wen said. "What we really need right now is for Speaker Silver to do the right thing. We had the majority last year for 6 months but speaker has not allowed it to come for a vote."

Dr. Daniel Lugassy, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program, pointed out that medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the nation and said he encounters first-hand the problems presented by the current, profit-driven health insurance system at his job in the emergency room.

He shared a story of a woman who was experiencing a heart attack, but tried to refuse care because she was concerned she did not have adequate coverage and said many under-insured and uninsured New Yorkers face the same dilemma daily.

"I never went to medical school to practice business — I went to school to practice medicine," Lugassy said. "A single payer system is the only way I'll be able to do the job I was meant to do."

New York Health is endorsed by more than 75 physician, labor and social justice groups as well as Green Party candidate for governor Howie Hawkins. It is sponsored in the Assembly by Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and in the Senate by Bill Perkins, D-Harlem.

The New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus is scheduled to endorse the legislation during an event in the Capitol on Wednesday.

PNHP note: The May 6 Lobby Day was endorsed by Single Payer New York, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, American Academy of Pediatrics-District II, Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare, Central Labor Council - Albany, NY, Capital District Area Labor Federation, Citizen Action of New York, Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU, Communications Workers of America District 1, Doctors Council/SEIU, Doctors for America—New York, Downtown Manhattan HCV Support Group, Finger Lakes for New York Health - Ithaca, NY, Granny Peace Brigade, Gray Panthers NYC Network, Green Party New York, Green Party of Onondaga, Labor-Religion Coalition New York State, New York HCV & HBV Support Group at O'Connor Hospital, Healthcare-NOW! NYC, Hunger Action Network of New York State, IATSE—Local 1, Interfaith Health Care Coalition of Rochester, Interfaith Impact of New York State, League of Women Voters of New York State, Metro Justice of Rochester, Move On, National Physicians Alliance—New York, New York State Academy of Family Physicians, New York State Labor Religion Coalition, New York State Nurses Association, New York State AFL-CIO, Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Physicians for a National Health Program – Finger Lakes Chapter, Physicians for a National Health Program – NY Metro Chapter, Rekindling Reform, Single Payer New York, Statewide Senior Action Council, Sullivan County Legislature, Troy Area Labor Council, UAW Regions 9 and 9A, United University Professions, Upstate Hepatitis Awareness Project, VOCAL-NY, Westchester for Change, Working Families Party.