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.

Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx

Adi Talwar

Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx.

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.

6 thoughts on “Opinion: New York’s COVID Recovery Must Include a Universal, People-First Healthcare System

  1. Thank you for supporting the NYHA. We need to pass this all important bill this legislative session!!
    I will gladly share this article.

  2. More irrational lunacy. How much will it cost? How pays for it? Unions created this mess. Now they will use union greed to hoist their free loader expense on taxpayers.

  3. This should not include illegal aliens. They have no rights here. What part of “illegal” don’t you understand.
    Also, socialized medicine is a farce.

  4. Executing a single-payer health care system on a state level would be a catastrophic financial move. This bill proposes no restrictions to prevent adverse selection. There are no checks and balances on critically ill people establishing residency in NY while actually living elsewhere. With unlimited long term care, anybody can be covered just by establishing residency having never contributed a dime to the system. This proposal fails to take in to account the mobility of the population in the US. The number of jobs that will be lost is in the hundreds of thousands.

    NYHA would create a bankrupting situation for small businesses that can not afford to pay for medical coverage today as they will essentially need to pay for this plan with payroll taxes. Imagine trying to start up a business in NY, take huge risks and massive investment knowing your path to being in the black may take years longer. I’d move out of state if this was me.

    Physicians would be less likely to set up their practice in NY after accumulating massive debt in school. Rural hospital networks that are already struggling risk being crushed by reduced reimbursement rates

    What about people whom have invested a lifetime in this state that now want to retire elsewhere. Are they covered on NY taxpayers dime?

    How about rationing? During the pandemic, the tax revenue of NY took a major hit. This plan is supposed to cover EVERYTHING. If tax revenue drops where does all this care get paid from? We don’t have some giant lock box of cash ready to cover claims when the revenue runs dry. The only solution is to ration care. Who will be the advocates for the patients to help them navigate when the resources are scarce. The wealthy will do just fine, the poor will again suffer.

    Also, if only a small proportion of the most well off NY’s relocate to avoid these massive taxes, this will be a huge deficit for the middle class to make up. Businesses can establish in NJ, PA or CT and avoid the taxes.

    Lastly, this proposal if passed is nearly impossible to implement. It’ll just create a black cloud over NY making this the least attractive place in NY to establish a new business. We can’t run a transportation system and stay solvent. No way do we want the same type of system controlling our health care.

    The NYHA is pure insanity being pushed by ideologues, who I believe have their hearts in the right place, but there is no consideration for the impracticality and total disregard for fiscal responsibility. A private public partnership is the best solution. Lets find a solution that can actually improve care and reduce cost. Do better Albany.

  5. When the roof has a leak, you don’t tear down the house.

    Rather than engaging with all of the stakeholders and seeking a solution that would actually bend the cost curve and improve access to care, the ideologues pursing this legislation refuse to consider anything short of a massive upset of the system and more than doubling the entire state budget!

    Unions, who have bargained for benefits for decades, would lose what they have AND have to pay more. Plus, with a massive (and unlimited) payroll tax split between employers and employees, negotiating raises and cost of living increases would become increasingly difficult.

    Rather than proving the need for the New York Health Act, COVID-19 actually proved how easy it would be for businesses to leave New York, between neighboring states and remote workforces. How does this get offset? By increasing the tax burden on the business and residents that remain. Our experience with COVID-19 has also further demonstrated the success of public-private partnerships. Employers, insurance companies, drug companies, hospitals, labs, medical groups, and government agencies worked together. Was it perfect? Of course not. Would it have been better if the government was managing every aspect of the response? Absolutely not!

    As Mike indicated, the state cannot even manage to maintain a solvent public transportation system – how can they manage a massive healthcare bureaucracy that would dwarf the current bureaucracy of the entire state.

    It is time to bring together all of the stakeholders – employers, unions, hospitals/medical groups, insurers – to work together toward common sense solutions.

  6. This is ridiculous, and it’s misleading. NYSNA keeps telling its members to support “Universal Healthcare,” but they are really fooling their members into supporting a single payer plan that is funded by taxes. It would demolish the healthcare system in NYS. Imagine NYS running the healthcare for all citizens. This is a complete joke. Taxes through the roof, and if you leave NYS after you retire you relinquish all of your benefits. How a labor union could possibly support and deceive their members into supporting this is unconscionable. I have nurses in my family, and NOT ONE of them supports government run single payer healthcare. Insanity. If you need to lie to your members and call it something it’s not, then there is something funny going on.

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