Passing the New York Health Act — which would provide universal, guaranteed healthcare and already has majority support in both the State Senate and the Assembly — will fundamentally transform how we care for our communities by focusing on healthcare and health outcomes.
For the last 15 months, New York healthcare workers have faced the toughest challenges of our working lives. We’ve struggled to save our patients while trying to keep ourselves, our colleagues and our families healthy and safe.
Doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, nursing home caregivers, home health aids and other healthcare workers have seen firsthand the inequities in our healthcare system throughout our careers, and in the last 15 months we’ve seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated them.
Public and safety-net hospitals from the Bronx to Brooklyn, located in New York City’s low-income communities and communities of color, were overwhelmed by COVID patients. The existing disparities in healthcare access and health outcomes in these neighborhoods were only worsened by the pandemic.
While New Yorkers were sick and dying, and caregivers were stretched to our limits trying to save lives, the for-profit health insurance companies raked in billions of dollars in profits. Insurance profiteers even billed patients for testing and vaccines that were supposed to be free.
Meanwhile, New York City’s strong public hospital system, responsible for caring for every patient, regardless of ability to pay, insurance or immigration status, bore the brunt of caring for COVID patients. And it was our free, national vaccination program that has finally slowed the pandemic’s deadly toll in this country, giving us hope of vanquishing this scourge.
These strong public health programs are the best example that a change in healthcare is both possible and necessary — and we want to start that change right here in New York.
Passing the New York Health Act — which would provide universal, guaranteed healthcare and already has majority support in both the State Senate and the Assembly — will fundamentally transform how we care for our communities by focusing on healthcare and health outcomes, not profit margins.
Under the NY Health Act, healthcare workers could focus on our patients instead of spending endless hours justifying treatment decisions to for-profit insurance companies and engaging in tedious billing processes for our hospitals.
For many of us, having “good” insurance is tied to our employment. When the pandemic hit, and everything from office buildings to restaurants shut down, a million people lost their jobs—and their employer-paid health insurance. Many were union workers. We saw on a massive scale what has always been true: healthcare tied to employment can cost people’s lives.
Data from the Rand Corporation shows the New York Health Act would lower costs for at least 90 percent of New Yorkers, while guaranteeing high-quality care for life. With the New York Health Act, union workers could bargain for additional economic benefits and safer worker conditions, instead of constantly trading wage increases for higher health insurance premiums at the bargaining table.
The bill would ensure New York’s safety net and public hospitals receive fair payment for patients — often the sickest and most in need. New Yorkers would also have free choice of hospital, rather than the restricted provider networks that segregate care by insurance plan. Rates paid to healthcare providers would go up, not down, in many cases due to the elimination of waste and corporate profits for insurance companies.
The New York Health Act is fiscally responsible: it will lower healthcare costs and invest more dollars in actual healthcare. More importantly, New York would create a system that provides quality care to everyone living and working in the state, regardless of zip code.
New York legislators have already responded to the COVID-19 crisis by passing one of the most progressive budgets in recent memory. They’ve passed the staffing bills to ensure there are enough nurses and support staff in hospitals and nursing homes to provide life-saving care. They passed the NY HERO Act so that ALL New Yorkers can protect themselves from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases in the workplace.
And now, lawmakers must take the next step. If we want to protect people from the next disaster or pandemic and ensure that healthcare is a human right, our legislature has this unique opportunity to make history in our great state.
Let’s not allow our traumas, sacrifices and losses to be in vain. As healthcare workers who’ve helped pull our communities out of the pandemic’s abyss, we have an urgent message to our legislators in Albany: pass the New York Health Act before the end of the session.
It’s a matter of life and death.
Dr. Keriann Shalvoy is a fourth-year resident psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital and president of the Committee of Interns and Residents SEIU. Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez is an emergency room RN at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx and president of the New York State Nurses Association.