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Metroland: Single-Payer Support

By Ali Hibbs, January 22

Health-care professionals and patients rallied at the Legislative Office Building last week in support of legislation to implement a universal health-care system in New York State. Decrying the current system as too costly and exclusionary, supporters of the NY Health Act insisted that it would save the state billions of dollars and make health care accessible and affordable for all New York citizens by taking insurance providers out of the equation altogether.

Albany was the last stop in a series of six hearings that took place across the state where doctors, patients, nurses and other stakeholders voiced support and gave testimonials endorsing the bill.

Under the proposed legislation, people would pay for services based on financial ability, and additional costs would be covered by taxpayers. According to advocates, this system would still save New Yorkers and their employers money because the added taxes would amount to significantly less than they are currently paying for health care services under the current system.

Admitting that Obamacare has improved coverage for some New Yorkers, supporters say that expanded coverage is not enough—that coverage should be affordable as well. “While we have made great strides in securing health care coverage for countless New Yorkers with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” said State Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), “Thousands of individuals either still lack health insurance or face substantial financial hardship to receive the medical treatment they need.”

“We deserve to be able to go to the doctor when we need to,” said Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), sponsor of the legislation. “Without worrying about if we can afford it. We deserve not to worry when we get a medical bill or an insurance statement we can’t figure out. We deserve health coverage for all of us, at a price based on our ability to pay, not what the market will bear.”

Gottfried, who has chaired the Assembly Health Committee since 1987, has been championing a single-payer system for more than 20 years, but this is the first time that hearings have been held on the subject. Pointing out that health-care premiums increased by 76 percent between the years 2003 and 2011 and that insurance providers have requested an increase of 12.5 percent in rates for 2015—they were only granted 5.7 percent—Gottfried hopes that now is the time to pass a bill that he believes will eliminate “unnecessary insurance company overhead and administrative costs that doctors and hospitals incur when dealing with insurance companies,” and “save New York consumers billions of dollars a year, while giving everyone access to the doctor and medicine they need, without financial obstacles and with freedom of choice, health-care security, and financial security.”

“As a nurse in the Emergency Department, I routinely see patients that delay seeking care because they can’t afford their co-pays and deductibles,” said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, President of the New York State Nurses Association. “As a result, they end up sicker and in poorer health. It’s time to make health care about caring for our fellow human beings and not a for-profit insurance marketplace.”

Opponents of the bill, such as Republican Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-Long Island) and the Business Council of New York, aver that the bill would increase the burden on businesses or amount to socialized health care. It has, however, been endorsed by a host of unions and good-government groups such as NYS AFL-CIO, NYS Nurses Association, the NYS Academy of Family Physicians, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, NYS United Teachers, Citizen Action and many others.

“All over New York State, people are clamoring for a health-care system that is equitable, comprehensive and patient-centered—one that truly cares for them as human beings without reference to actuarial charts, prior approvals and prohibitive pricing,” said the sponsor of the corresponding legislation in the Senate, Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem). “Our New York health bill will finally put patients before profits—while vastly improving our healthcare delivery system, saving the state substantial amounts of money and finally recognizing the hallmark maxim that the greatest wealth in our society is our collective health.”