N.Y. lawmakers hold hearing on government-run health care system

By Katie Gibas
Time Warner Cable News, Jan. 2, 2015

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- What if you didn't have to worry about insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays when it comes to your health care? That's what some New York lawmakers are proposing with the New York Health Act.

Ellie Donnelly of Syracuse couldn't afford health insurance in the years before the Affordable Care Act, so she went without. Then she had a heart attack.

"I got a bill for $43,000 unable to pay all these bills, I almost lost my house," said Donnelly.

That's one of the reasons she's been an advocate for a single-payer health care system or one in which the government, rather than private insurance companies, pays all health care costs.

"A single-payer system has tremendous potential to eliminate much of the hassle, waste, excessive cost and needless complexity that is frustrating for all of us every day, doctors and patients alike," said Dr. Robert Ostrander, the NYS Academy of Family Physicians vice president.

State Assemblyman and Chair of the Assembly's Health Committee Democrat Richard Gottfried introduced a bill to make that system a reality in New York State. He says the Affordable Care Act has made health care more reasonably priced but its fatal flaw is that it still relies on health insurance companies.

"Virtually every problem in health and health care that we face as patients, as health care providers, as employers, as taxpayers is made worse and more expensive and harder to solve because of the fact that we have an insurance-based health care system," said Gottfried.

Under Gottfried's proposal, there would be no premiums, deductibles or co-payments. It would be funded through a payroll tax, similar to the Medicare tax. Employers would pay 80% and employees would pay 20%.

"Health care ought to be treated in New York as a human right and public good and not a commercial commodity," said Gottfried.

Doctors and hospitals say they already struggle with Medicare and Medicaid. Groups like the New York Health Plan Association and New York State Conference of BlueCross BlueShield Plans say imposing a state-run system will mean higher taxes, price controls, limited choice among plans and providers, health care rationing, and a loss of jobs in the health insurance industry. Gottfried isn't concerned.

"They're not such huge employers. First thing I would say to them is find a socially productive way to earn a living," said Gottfried.

BlueCross BlueShield alone employs 10,000 people in New York State.

Vermont lawmakers voted in 2011 to create a single-payer system in their state by 2017.

The hearings will continue next week in Rochester and Buffalo and eventually make their way across the state, ending in Albany in January.

Read the documents related to the New York Health Act:

PNHP note: The article above is an updated version that was published on Dec. 4, 2014. For a related story with commentary by Assemblyman Gottfried and photos from the hearing, click here: