The Javorac

One thing is clear from the Covid-19 pandemic: This nation needs a single-payer healthcare system. Our national response to this health crisis was disjointed at best, criminal at worst. So many Americans have died unnecessarily because of our dysfunctional healthcare systems.

With multiple providers of healthcare coverage—various private insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid—the result is chaos. People are denied life-saving medications, subjected to Catch-22 procedures to make claims, nickel-and-dimed with co-pays, shocked by “surprise” non-coverage when you need it most. It is not unusual for an accident victim to be denied coverage on the basis of not having received “prior approval” for the service of an ambulance. 

We have seen enough shortages of PPE equipment, testing kits, and hospital beds to convince us all that something different is needed. We need a unified approach to the delivery of healthcare, as well as its costs. 

Now that Bernie Sanders is officially out of the race for president, a Medicare for All system is on the backburner for the near future under a potential Joe Biden presidency.

However, there is a renewed push in New York for the passage of the New York Health Act (NYHA). This is a Medicare for All system for New Yorkers. The NYHA  [A.5248a, S.3577a] will provide comprehensive, universal health coverage for every New Yorker. The NYHA covers all medically necessary care including dental, hearing, vision, mental health, substance abuse treatment, reproductive care, and long-term care and support. There are no copays, no deductibles, no premiums,  no in-or-out-of network: All doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, and other medical personnel will be in the plan. There will be no more denials of care.

While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi does not support a national Medicare for All single-payer system, she has green-lighted the creation of one or more working models in individual states before it would be considered on a national level. 

This is the moment for New York to take the lead. As the state hit hardest by the Covid-19 virus, New York is ready to transform how health care is delivered and paid for. Not only is New York a financial powerhouse in so many ways, we have, at present, Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature. Unfortunately, the now popular Governor Andrew Cuomo has not yet voiced his support for the NYHA. Those who follow the governor know that he is not currently a champion of such a bold move, but progressives are hopeful that the voters, come November, will help move him in this direction. 

Now let’s talk about costs. The New York Health Act will save the state billions of dollars right at the start. Ninety-eight percent of New Yorkers would save money on health care, even though they would pay approximately $3,000 a year in a progressive tax for their health care. Real costs would drop significantly. 

By eliminating private insurance, which this bill will do, the average New Yorker will see a net savings of $8,000 per year. And so much more would change for the better as well. 

A Harvard University study (2019) indicates that medical expenses are the biggest cause of bankruptcy, representing 62 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States. That translates to over 500,000 American families per year suffering bankruptcies as a result of either medical expenses or missed employment because of illness. Such experiences would not occur under the NYHA.

Union members are often skittish about single-payer plans, believing that such plans would take away hard won negotiated benefits which were traded off for other benefits. 

But, that’s just the point: With healthcare off the table, unions could bargain for other benefits like eliminating or reducing contributions to pension funds, higher pay, and better working conditions. 

NYHA even has a provision for retraining those now working in the private insurance industry. This job training would prepare such workers for positions having comparable pay. 

The New York Health Act was originated by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, and has passed the New York State Assembly every session since 1992. And under the leadership of New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera, this potentially historic bill nearly passed the upper chamber in the last session, falling short by one vote. Running in the June 23 primaries are candidates who not only pledge to support the NYHA but promise to champion it once elected. Here on Long Island, Christine Pellegrino and Skyler Johnson have both taken the pledge to support and champion this bill. 

Health care is a human right. Our state can set the standard for the country by implementing a just, affordable, and equitable healthcare system. Let’s pass the New York Health Act in the upcoming session of the Legislature.

Robert Buonaspina is an elected steering committee member of Long Island Activists and a history teacher at Locust Valley Middle/High School. Visit the Campaign for New York Health website here.