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Testimony on the New York Health Act before the New York City Council

Testifying before the NYC Council in support of its resolution endorsing the New York Health Act, December 6, 2018

Testimony of Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried

in Support of the New York Health Act

Public Hearing: City Council Committee on Health

New York City Hall

December 6, 2018

I am Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried.  I chair the Assembly Health Committee and I am the introducer, along with Senator Gustavo Rivera, of the New York Health Act, to create single-payer health coverage for every New Yorker.  I appreciate the Council Health Committee holding this hearing on Speaker Corey Johnson’s resolution endorsing the bill.  I support the resolution.

In both houses of the State Legislature, we now have solid majorities who have co-sponsored, voted for, or campaigned supporting the NY Health Act.  And Governor Cuomo supports single-payer health coverage, although he says he has questions about whether it can be done at the state level.

Every New Yorker should have access to the health care they need, without financial obstacles or hardship.  No one says they disagree with that.  And the New York Health Act is the only proposal that can achieve that goal.

In NY State, we spend $300 billion – federal, state, and non-governmental – on health coverage.  Nationally, we spend far more than any industrial democracy as a percentage of GDP.  But 18 cents of the insurance premium dollar goes for insurance company bureaucracy and profit.  Our doctors and hospitals spend twice what Canadian doctors and hospitals do on administrative costs, because they have to fight with insurance companies.  We pay exorbitant prescription drug prices because no one has the bargaining leverage to negotiate effectively with drug companies.

Just about every New Yorker – patients, employees, employers, and taxpayers – is burdened by a combination of rising premiums, skyrocketing deductibles, co-pays, restrictive provider networks, out-of-network charges, coverage gaps, and unjustified denials of coverage.  I know I am, and I bet everyone in this room is.

And those financial burdens are not based on ability to pay.  The premium, the deductibles – the insurance company doesn’t care if you’re a multi-millionaire CEO or a receptionist.

In a given year, a third of households with insurance has someone go without needed health care because they can’t afford it – and usually for a serious condition.

The number one cause of personal bankruptcy is health care — even for those who have commercial health coverage.

We’ve put control of our health care in the hands of unaccountable insurance company bureaucrats. Nobody wants insurance company bureaucrats deciding what doctor you or your family can see and when.

The health insurance system means massive cost increases for most everyone and better health care for hardly anyone. It’s a disaster.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The NY Health Act will save billions of dollars for patients, employees, employers, health care providers and taxpayers – while providing complete health coverage to every New Yorker.

Everyone would be able to receive any service or product covered by any of the following:  NY Medicaid, Medicare, state insurance law mandates, and the current state public employee benefit, plus anything the plan decides to add.

And there will be no premiums, no deductibles, no co-pays, no restricted provider network, and no out-of-network charges.

We’ll actually save billions of dollars because we get rid of insurance company bureaucracy and profit, doctors and hospitals will be able to slash their administrative costs, and New York Health will be able to negotiate much lower drug prices by bargaining for 20 million patients.

And this lower cost will be shared fairly, based on ability to pay.  NY Health will be funded by broad-based progressively graduate taxes.

There will be one tax on payroll.  At least 80% of it must be paid by the employer.

There will be a similar tax on currently taxable “unearned” income – like capital gains and dividends.

Because of the savings and the progressively graduated tax mechanism, 90% or more of New Yorkers will spend less and have more in their pocket.

Pumping this money back into our economy will create 200,000 new jobs in New York.

And there will be money to completely cover everyone, and make sure doctors, hospitals and other providers are paid fairly – and today, most of the time, they are not.

The vast majority of our hospitals get most of their revenue from Medicaid, Medicare, and uncompensated care pools – none of which fully cover the cost of care.  The NY Health Act requires full funding for all hospital care, and hospitals will save billions in reduced administrative costs.

Here are 3 basic numbers:  The savings from insurance company bureaucracy and profit, provider administrative costs, and drug prices will total $55 billion.  The increased spending for covering everyone; eliminating deductibles, co-pays and out-of-network charges; and paying providers more fairly will cost $26 billion.  So the net savings to New Yorkers is $29 billion.

The way our society deals with long-term care – meaning home health care and nursing home care – for the elderly and people with disabilities is a moral outrage.  NY’s Medicaid does a much better job than other states.  But today, New Yorkers spend $11 billion a year out-of-pocket for long-term care.  And family members – usually women – provide unpaid home care worth $19 billion.

In January, Senator Rivera and I will be announcing that the NY Health Act will cover long-term care.

Now, that will use up $19 billion of the net savings.  But it means no NY family will have to wipe out lifetime savings, and no family member will have to give up a career, to provide long-term care for a loved one.  That’s profoundly important.

How much tax revenue will we need?  With the net savings, we’ll need $129 billion from the NY Health taxes.  When we add home care and nursing home care, we’ll need $159 billion.

How do we know the NY Health program will treat us – and our doctors and hospitals – fairly?  Two ways.

First, the legislation explicitly requires that provider payments be reasonable, related to the cost of providing the care, and assure an adequate supply of the care.  No coverage today has that guarantee.

Second, we’ll all be in the same boat; rich and poor.  Every New Yorker – every voter – will benefit from the program.  And every voter will have a stake in making sure our elected officials keep it as good as possible.

Remember where we started:  Every New Yorker should have access to needed health care, without financial obstacles or hardship.  We’re not there today.  The NY Health Act will get us there.  If anyone doesn’t like the NY Health Act, they should either put on the table another plan that will get us there, or admit that they’re OK with depriving millions of New Yorkers of health care or family financial stability.

Concerns have been raised by many of NY City’s municipal labor unions.  They are justifiably proud of the good deal they have won for their members over the years.  Good scope of coverage.  The City pays the full premium.  And the contract says that if there are savings in the health benefit, the savings go into a stabilization fund to pay for salaries and benefits.  As they remind us: at the bargaining table they have given up wages and benefits to protect this deal.

Under NY Health, by law, every municipal employee, like every New Yorker, would have an even broader scope of benefits, and without deductibles, co-pays and restricted provider networks and out-of-network charges.

Under the bill now, collective bargaining could continue to have the City pick up the whole tab for the payroll tax and pass on the savings to the stabilization fund.  But Sen. Rivera and I have offered to add bill language that by law would require the City to do that, without the need to bargain for it.

Our parents didn’t raise us to screw workers.  Period.  Sen. Rivera and I are determined to make sure that labor’s concerns are protected under the NY Health Act.  We are continuing the dialogue with them.

Thank you for letting me testify.

Testimony Before NYC Human Resources Administration: Expand & Strengthen Tenants’ Right to Counsel

Testifying on behalf of tenants’ right to counsel before the NYC Human Resources Agency, November 15, 2018

Testimony by Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried Before the NYC Human Resources Administration’s Office of Civil Justice

                                        Public Hearing on the                                                      Universal Access to Legal Services Program for Tenants Facing Eviction

                                Thursday, November 15, 2018

My name is Richard N. Gottfried.  I represent the 75th Assembly District in Manhattan, which includes the neighborhoods of Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown, and part of the Upper West Side and Murray Hill.  Thank you for this opportunity to testify about the Right to Counsel program.

Right to Counsel (RTC) or Universal Access to Legal Counsel (UATC) in Housing Court became a New York City law in 2017.  With this law, some, but not all, low-income tenants have the right to have a lawyer provided to them if they are sued in Housing Court by their landlord.  Before Right to Counsel was enacted, landlords tried to evict over 230,000 tenants a year.  Most of those tenants were low-income people, and predominantly people of color and immigrants.

The program has quickly made a real difference in the lives of many people.  Since the implementation of Right to Counsel, evictions are down 24 percent from 2014; filings are down 10% from 2014; and shelter entries from evictions are down. The program contributes to preserving affordable housing and stable communities by keeping people out of court and out of homeless shelters.  But there are too many people who cannot access the program because of the income level requirement.  The next step is to expand and strengthen the successful Right to Counsel program.

City Council Members Mark Levine, Vanessa Gibson and Diana Ayala have introduced legislation, Intro 1104-2018,  to increase the income threshold of 200% of the federal poverty level to 400% and to expand the types of cases covered by RTC to include administrative hearings such as those in HPD, and the NYS HCR (Homes and Community Renewal) agency, as well as for cases that are appealed and a portion that land in state Supreme Court.  These would be important steps ahead.

More must be done to increase outreach and tenant awareness.  The City needs to finance efforts by various community organizations to educate tenants about when they are entitled to legal representation.

It continues to be a challenge to get the word out to tenants that the right to counsel in Housing Court exists and how to find out if they are eligible and where to go.  As part of the RTC implementation, New York City’s Tenant Support Unit knocks on doors to advise tenants at risk of eviction that they are entitled to a lawyer.  More tenant outreach and education is needed and can best be provided by neighborhood-based groups with a history of tenant organizing, as well as the Tenant Support Unit. Increased funding to neighborhood-based groups already doing education and outreach would contribute to the effectiveness of the right to counsel program.

Several public awareness efforts, if funded by the City, would help tenants learn of the new right.  Efforts such as subway ads, tele-town halls, mass mailings, email and social media, and a hotline are all possible ways to increase access to the program

After only a year, Right to Counsel has proven its effectiveness.  It should be expanded and strengthened.



Chelsea Now – Cyclist Fatalities Addressed: Route Adherence Stressed, Crosstown Bike Lanes Suggested

By Dusica Malesevic, October 10

For the first time since two cyclists were killed this past summer after being struck by charter buses, bus companies sat down last week with the community, elected officials, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) and the NYPD.

Brandon Buchanan, director of regulatory affairs for the American Bus Association, said it was the first time they had been invited. The meeting, which took place on Thurs., Oct. 5 and was convened by Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office, was a good opportunity to establish a partnership, B

Village Voice – Chronic Pain: Why The Architect of New York’s Medical Marijuana Law Is Already Trying to Change It

By Madison Margolin, November 3, 2105


The cover of the November 4, 2015 Village Voice

On a frigid March morning in downtown Albany, where church spires loom tall and traffic lights dangle from wires that stretch across intersections, a flurry of white-haired men in suits strolled down State Street. They were heading for Sixty State Street, the tony event space and banquet hall in the city’s Downtown Historic District, where a team of busboys were hurrying to arrange pastries on silver trays in anticipation of the guests’ arrival. Once they arrived, they mingled in groups, chatting over coffee and orange juice, shaking hands and exchanging business cards.

They were surprisingly awake for 8 a.m., despite the reason for their gathering. This mostly male, mostly white, and mostly middle-aged crowd consisted mainly of the state politicians, lawyers, and entrepreneurs who were all of a sudden driving the state’s conversation on medical marijuana. This was hardly a wake-and-bake kind of crowd, but they were all there to talk about weed.

The event, called “Medical Marijuana: Is New York Doing It Right?” was put on by the news site Capital New York and sponsored by Citiva Medical, a company that, at the time, was vying for one of the state’s five medical marijuana growing licenses. Among the stately baby boomers who would be taking part in the morning’s main event — a journalist-moderated panel discussion — was a Manhattan assemblyman named Richard Gottfried. A bookish policy wonk, he had been the loudest critic of the recently passed Compassionate Care Act, which had legalized medical marijuana — but with a host of draconian restrictions that he believed had rendered the law almost useless. No, he insisted, New York was not doing medical marijuana right. Not after Governor Andrew Cuomo essentially gutted the law that Gottfried had written, perfected, and championed over the course of the past two decades.

Chelsea Now – Momentum Building to Confront Construction Permit Fraud

By Eileen Stukane, July 15

New York state and city elected officials are responding to the activism of the newly-created Community & Residents Protection Working Group (CRP), which this year has been alerting Chelsea residents to widespread building fraud that has previously gone unnoticed.

At meetings with representatives of city agencies and Community Board 4 (CB4), the CRP began to flush out owners, landlords and developers who received NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) permits for construction by routinely lying on their DOB Form PW1, section 26 applications, stating that occupied buildings were unoccupied — a statement which freed them from instituting required Tenant Protection Plans, and making conditions unlivable in order to pressure occupants to leave.

The CRP revealed that 80 occupied buildings in Chelsea were construction sites permitted through falsified applications. Seeing legal permits posted, residents of those buildings did not think they had any recourse. As research deepened, it also became apparent that this fraudulent situation is a citywide concern. The CRP’s findings ignited a call for action, which shows strong signs of being heard — especially by the DOB, which is receiving word from community leaders, and has its own reforms in the works. Although no specific corrective measures are in place, the drive for change has begun.

On June 30, 2015 five elected officials — Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, NYC Councilmember Corey Johnson, NY State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, NY State Senator Brad Hoylman and U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler — signed a letter addressed to DOB Commissioner Richard (Rick) Chandler, requesting a meeting with him and his appropriate staff to discuss the CRP’s findings and to “find a satisfactory way for the agencies to work together to stop the harassment and dangerous conditions facing many tenants today.”

Chelsea Now – Tenants Scrutinize NextGen NYCHA

By Zach Williams, July 15

BY ZACH WILLIAMS | New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents said they expect better communication and transparency in the months ahead from authority officials, as they continue to develop strategies to deal with the financial problems of public housing citywide.

About 100 people attended a town hall meeting held at Baruch College (Lexington Ave. & E. 25th St.), where NYCHA tenants asked questions of officials for about two hours on the night of July 14. A similar town hall was held on July 8 at Hunter College in East Harlem. Both events followed the unveiling of “NextGeneration NYCHA,” a plan to move the authority from the brink of fiscal catastrophe to a $230 million budgetary surplus over the next decade. Vital to the plan’s success, officials said, was the participation of residents in the process moving forward, including upcoming focus groups.

Upscale Buildings Deny Workers a Living Wage

Chelsea Now, April 11, 2014

Hundreds of union workers marched across the High Line alongside non-union workers, elected officials and local advocates on April 10 to call for better wages for the non-union employees of numerous luxury residential buildings in West Chelsea.

Non-union doormen, porters and concierges at ultra-wealthy residences around the High Line make substantially less than their unionized counterparts, and many don’t even get health insurance.

“I work 40 hours a week, sometimes more, but I still can’t afford to live on my own,” said Manuel Matos, 25, who makes $12 per hour with no benefits as a concierge at 540 West 28th Street, which is owned and operated by the Ekstein Development company.

Community, Electeds Protest Out-of-Scale Luxury Condo Development

The Save 16th Street Coalition, community members, and elected officials rallied to protest the construction of a mid-block 11-story luxury building on West 16th Street that will engulf the historic French Evangelical Church, built in 1835.  Einhorn Development Group bought the lot for $4 million from the church and originally told the community the plan was to build a six-story building, equivalent in height to the rest of the historic block that promised to preserve the architectural integrity of the church and the charming tree-lined street.

Save Union Square Park Pavilion!

On Saturday, March 9, advocates, elected officials, and the community rallied in support of the historic Women & Children’s Pavilion in Union Square Park.  Together we called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to cancel a Bloomberg-era contract to build a high-end restaurant in the park that would drastically reduce public access to the pavilion area.

Here’s our letter to the Mayor and DNAinfo’s coverage of the event, and below please find our press release from the rally:

Community, Advocates, and Officials Call on Mayor de Blasio to Protect Historic Pavilion for Community Use

Advocates, local elected officials and community residents came together to ask Mayor Bill de Blasio to cancel the Bloomberg-era contract to build a controversial high-end bar/restaurant in the historic Woman’s & Children’s Pavilion in Union Square Park, repeating the request made Friday in a letter to the Mayor by seven elected officials.

“The Mayor has the legal right to cancel this contract for any reason,” said Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. “As the concession agreement provides and the City’s Law Department vigorously argued to the New York State Court of Appeals, the license is freely terminable “at will” at any time.”

Students, Neighborhood Activists, and Local Elected Officials Rally to Save Hopper-Gibbons House

The Hopper Gibbons House (339 West 29th St.), where slaves were once given shelter, famous abolitionists met, and the Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated, is imperiled by the developer’s attempt to retain an illegally built 5th story addition.

In advance of the Board of Standards and Appeals hearing on this issue (scheduled for Feb. 12th), those working to save the historic features of this landmarked 4-story row house held a press conference Sunday to demand that this addition be removed.

“This disfiguring illegal 5th story addition obscures the dramatic events that transpired at this house during the Draft Riots.  Because most of the addition was completed after it was landmarked and because the building permit and waiver to expand the building were invalid, this addition must come down,” said Fern Luskin, a professor of art and architectural history at LaGuardia Community College.

Julie Finch, the co-chair of the organization, Friends of Hopper Gibbons House, added, “The owner is a scofflaw and is claiming a hardship which is actually self-created.  He committed fraud on applications and plans, as well as during construction.”

“For years, the community has worked to save this historic building,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried. “The fate of this building is in the BSA’s hands.  It must enforce the order for the owner of 339 West 29th Street to remove the illegal addition, and restore the integrity of the Hopper Gibbons House,” added Mr. Gottfried.

State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “The Hopper Gibbons House has survived 167 years of history, including being burned during the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863, only to be defaced in modern times by an unscrupulous steward.  I’m proud to join preservation advocates, student activists and elected officials in demanding that the illegal addition built atop this building, which was part of the Underground Railroad, be removed immediately.”

Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn stated: “The Hopper-Gibbons building – as well as the other buildings that make up the Lamartine Place Historic District – hold tremendous local and national historical significance. For years, we’ve fought to protect the integrity of this building and to ensure that it is preserved for future generations. It is important that Chelsea residents and visitors understand that we are home to what was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. I am confident that the Board of Standards and Appeals will vote to protect and preserve this building and the Lamartine Place H.D.”

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams stated:  “The Hopper-Gibbons House is a significant building to me and to all New Yorkers. As a member of the Landmarks subcommittee in the City Council, I have a vested interest in seeing our local history preserved and protected for future generations to appreciate. As a legislator of more color, I care about New York City’s role in the abolitionist movement and this house’s role as a stop on the Underground Railroad. It is my sincere hope that the Board of Standards and Appeals will rule in favor of conserving this local treasure.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer commented, “The Hopper Gibbons – the only documented site of the Underground Railroad in the Borough of Manhattan – played a crucial role in the Civil Rights history of our borough. I am proud to pledge my continued support for protection of this historic site, and will work with my colleagues in government in the years ahead to ensure its preservation.”  In a similar vein, the Chair of Manhattan CB 4, Corey Johnson and Andrew Berman, Exec. Director of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation respectively stated “no matter what happens on February 12 the Board will continue this fight to the end” and “this underground railroad site is such a rare and precious part of our history, and the City must enforce the law and ensure that it is protected.”

Also participating in this event were the Bronx Lab High School Underground Railroad Riders and Alessandro Viviano, a junior at Friends Seminary, who sang a verse of Gibbons’ “We Are Coming Father Abra’am.”

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READ MORE:  Chelsea brownstone honored as only documented Manhattan stop on underground railroad, NY Daily News, Jan. 16, 2012

Retracing the Elusive Footsteps of a Secretive History, NY Times, Feb. 24, 2008

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