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Times-Union – Steck: Single payer state health plan could offset Obamacare cuts

By Rick Karlin, 1/7/17

Going to a statewide single-payer health insurance program could offset the financial hit facing New York state if Congress does away with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Assemblyman Phil Steck said during a town hall-type meeting on Saturday.

Steck, a Democrat whose 110th district includes Colonie and Schenectady, compared his vision of a statewide system to Medicare. “The most efficient health provider in the U.S. is Medicare,” he said, citing the low overhead and administrative costs with that national plan for those 65 and older.

 His remarks came during a wide-ranging open house during which several dozen constituents, braving an 18-degree morning, crammed into his small Schenectady office.

Questions from attendees ranged from whether upstate will get ride-hailing services like Uber, to immigration and jobs.

But much of the talk got back to what impact the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, along with an all-Republican Congress, will have on New Yorkers.

That’s been a hot topic for a while, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier in the week predicting an ACA repeal would cost the state $3.7 billion and cause 2.7 million people to lose their health care coverage.

By creating a statewide Medicare-like system, Steck said, people would pay a payroll tax but they would avoid health insurance premiums.

Others, including Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, have called for such a program, but getting a majority of lawmakers to support it would be a challenge.

And conservative critics have argued that such a plan could lead to cost increases due a lack of market competition and the fact that government would be operating the health insurance market.

Steck said he has already delved into the insurance issue in the Legislature, trying, unsuccessfully so far, to promote a bill that would let municipalities join county health insurance plans for their public employees.

He noted the state’s health insurance coverage pales in comparison to some other public sector programs such as Albany County.

Steck was a county legislator before he became an assemblyman.

“When I was in that plan it was great,” he said of the county’s health coverage.

He added that he’s now on his wife’s teachers’ coverage, which also is better than the state plan.

Steck made it clear that he takes a progressive stand toward many issues. When a small business owner said the state’s mandated increase in a minimum wage could hurt her operation, he said the higher pay should help the overall economy by giving people more spendable income.

When another constituent expressed worry about undocumented immigrants, he said he believed most come here to take low-paying jobs that nobody else wants and that businesses are often complicit in keeping that system going.

On a more local level, Steck took aim at the defeated construction bond issue put up by the North Colonie school system in December, echoing criticisms that the polling location was limited to one spot.

When one of the attendees said state law required one polling place, Steck, who is also a lawyer, disagreed.

“The state law is you can do it,” he said, referring to the use of one polling location.