There’s no better time for state legislators to pass the New York Health Act, a coalition of community groups and health-care unions advocated during a May 20 virtual rally.
More than 1 million New Yorkers across the state do not have health insurance, according to data released last September by the Empire Center for Public Policy.
'Need Was Never Clearer'
“We are committed, as we have been for years, to making sure that no one is uninsured, that no one is afraid of going to the doctor because the cost, and that’s why we’re committed to passing the New York Health Act this legislative session,” said Katie Robbins, the director of Campaign for New York Health, a coalition of more than 125 community and labor groups that hosted the online press conference. “There has never been more clarity for why this is needed than in the middle of what we are going through right now globally.”
And the number of uninsured New Yorkers was bound to surge since more than two million residents have applied for unemployment because they've lost their jobs due to the shutdown orders.
“We’re going to have record unemployment after this, which means we’re going to have a record [number of] uninsured,” said Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, a New York State Nurses Association member who stepped back into her scrubs because of the COVID crisis to help out at Montefiore Einstein Hospital.
Last year, about half of state residents received health insurance through their employer.
Bronx Hit Hardest
Several of the advocates live in or represent districts in The Bronx, the borough with the highest rates of asthma, diabetes and hypertension. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected black and Latino people and low-income communities, who were more likely to be uninsured.
“Part of what is making COVID-19 so horrendous is because of the way we pay for health care,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.
“We cannot get out of this if we do not have adequate health care,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams added.
Larry Levine, President and CEO of Blythedale Children's Hospital in Valhalla, said he has been advocating a single-payer system for 49 years. “I see first-hand how children and their families are hurt by the private health insurance system, through denials of care, high co-pays and deductibles, mountains of paperwork and confusing rules,” he said.
The New York Health Act, which would provide free health and dental insurance and eliminate co-pays, deductibles, and premiums, passed in the State Assembly and is one vote shy of majority support in the Senate.
Cost the Prime Issue
Critics have pointed out that a universal health-care plan would require $139 billion in new tax revenue. The state is currently projecting a $13-billion budget shortfall.
Lori Lyon, a disabled activist, argued that in the long run, preventive care would save money compared to paying for emergency services. She described the medical issues she and her daughter, who are both diabetic, have faced because they delayed seeking medical attention due to being uninsured. It ultimately resulted in two of her toes being amputated, while her daughter developed endometrial cancer that led to her needing a hysterectomy.
“All of these issues could have been prevented if we had proper health-care access,” she said.
Mariana Pineda, an immigrant and member of Long Island Activists, described past experiences of not having health insurance, including when she was told she earned too much for Medicaid when she went from being a substitute Teacher to being employed full-time. Luckily, she was covered when she began experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 around Easter. When she went to the emergency room, she passed out and was told that she had pneumonia.
If she had been uninsured when she contracted the coronavirus, “I would have tried to ride out the pneumonia, and I would be dead right now,” Ms. Pineda said.
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