Speaker to allow vote on universal health care bill

By James Bormley
The Legislative Gazette (Albany, N.Y.), May 5, 2015

During a rally Tuesday in support of a universal health care bill, Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried told supporters that Speaker Carl Heastie plans to let the chamber vote on the bill before the end of session.

Under the New York Health Act (S.3525/A.5062), which has been introduced in the Assembly every year since 1992, every New York resident would be eligible to enroll in a publicly-funded health care system, regardless of age, income, wealth, employment or other status.

The goal of the bill is to replace the multi-payer system of employer-based insurance, individually purchased coverage and federally sponsored programs with a single system that charges consumers based on their income and ability to pay.

"Assembly members should be able to go home and tell their constituents they did something for New Yorkers," Gottfried told the group of advocates during a rally outside the Capitol. More than a hundred supporters planned to meet with lawmakers throughout the afternoon in hopes of signing them on as co-sponsors to the bill.

"Getting it passed in the Assembly would be an enormous step," Gottfried continued. "The people will realize [universal health care] is not impossible, but inevitable." The bill has 79 sponsors in the Assembly and was reported to the Codes Committee in February.

Under the legislation, there would be no premium, deductibles, or co-pays for health care in New York because coverage would be publicly funded. The benefits would include outpatient and inpatient medical care, primary and preventive care, prescription drugs, laboratory tests, rehabilitative, dental, vision and hearing care — all of which are benefits currently required by state insurance law or provided by the state public employee package, Family Health Plus, Child Health Plus, Medicare and Medicaid.

The bill passed the Assembly in 1992 but has died in either the Health Committee or the Ways and Means Committee every year since then. The Senate version of the bill, with 20 sponsors, was introduced by Bill Perkins, D-Harlem, and has been in the Health Committee since February 11.

Supporters of the bill say it would save taxpayers $45 billion in just the first year if adopted, or $2,200 per New Yorker. A study by Gerald Friedman, chair of the Department of Economics at UMass Amherst, shows that the share of a New Yorker's income spent on health care has risen from an average of 12 percent in 1991 to 16 percent in 2014. If the bill were passed and signed, the largest savings would go to households earning less than $75,000 a year and 98 percent of New York's households would spend less on health care than they do now.

Gottfried told the crowd that if the bill passes the Assembly, lawmakers will be forced to talk about the issue of universal health care with their constituents. "We want New Yorkers to ask their representatives: 'Why haven't you made this happen yet?'"