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WBFO: Advocates hope Common Council support will lead to universal healthcare in NY

By Avery Schneider, 2/15/17

For the third year in a row, a bill is traveling through the New York legislature with the goal of creating a statewide single-payer healthcare system – more commonly known as ‘universal healthcare.’ Similar bills passed the state Assembly in 2015 and 2016, but failed to gain Senate approval. With the repeal of the Affordable Care Act on the horizon, advocates see this year’s attempt as more important than ever.

The bill – currently in committee with the state Senate – was sponsored by two Manhattan Democrats – Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried (A.4738) and Senator Bill Perkins (S.4371).

Among the highlights of its summary are the establishment of a “comprehensive system of access to health insurance” for state residents, creation of a trust fund to finance the plan, and progressive payroll-based premiums.

Buffalo Common Council Member David Rivera issued a resolution before the Council’s Community Development Committee on Tuesday, calling for support of the bill by his fellow members. He urged them to consider what life will be like in the future if healthcare remains on its current path.

“We’re going to need to go to a doctor. We’re going to need the prescription that we want. We’re going to have to pay premiums. We’re going to have to pay co-pays. And that is when our eyes are going to open up and we’re going to say, ‘Oh my goodness, we had an opportunity to do something.’ And this is the opportunity right now.”

Rivera was joined in Council chambers by an audience of advocates for universal healthcare. Many stepped to the mic to voice their support and tell personal stories of why they believe its New York’s best option. Rivera was also joined by fellow Council member Rasheed Wyatt, who said he stands with the advocates and wants his name added to the resolution.

Wyatt noted that healthcare is often taken for granted by Americans – especially those in Washington who are out to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“I think there’s two things in this world that shouldn’t be compromised,” said Wyatt. “And that’s education and health coverage. And those are the two things that seem to be this political football that I don’t understand why. I think it’s something that, in my opinion, is common sense. That we should – as the richest country in the world – everyone should have health coverage. It should not even be a question. It should not even be a debate.”

Donna Grace, a resident of Buffalo’s Delaware District, hopes passage of the New York Health Act will lead to greater change. She believes New York could be the example for a national healthcare system in the U.S., much like the province of Saskatchewan was for Canada’s healthcare system in 1947. Grace said the economics of such a change are simple.

“Remove the insurance barrier and become competitive with other cities whose countries have universal healthcare,” explained Grace. “Businesses will no longer negotiate health plans. Less paperwork, higher efficiency. Relieve the property tax burden that funds Medicaid.”

Grace said the Health Act will give New Yorkers the ability to negotiate drug prices for medications and have more money to spend on economic stimulus.

Rivera’s resolution was ultimately adopted by the Community Development Committee and will go before the full Common Council for a vote at their next meeting on Feb. 21. Brian Nowak with Liberty Union Progressives is among those hoping the resolution will not only be approved by the full Council, but that it will go on to spur others to join the cause. He believes there’s more help that’s needed.

“It’s going to take the efforts of unions and concerned citizens and organized groups all over the state to get their city councils to support this, to get county legislatures to support this, lobbying of senators to push this forward,” said Nowak. “The Affordable Care Act looks like it’s going to go away and the people that are trying to get rid of that have no alternative.”