By Alec Pruchnicki, MD
On Sunday, October 6th, residents of Greenwich Village and much of lower Manhattan had a chance to speak out on the possibility and advisability of bringing a single payer healthcare system to New York State (my article in WestView News last month was, “Want Single Payer in New York? Speak Up!”). A forum was held at the Elisabeth Irwin High School on Charlton Street. It was initially organized by the Village Independent Democrats and later co-sponsored by a range of Democratic party clubs, including the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, Coalition for a District Alternative, Downtown Independent Democrats, Gramercy-Stuyvesant Independent Democrats, Hell’s Kitchen Democrats, Samuel J. Tilden Democratic Club, and the United Democratic Organization.
The speakers included Assembly Member Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, who co-sponsored the New York Health Act which would establish a single payer insurance system in New York State. Speaking in favor of the bill were Kim Behrens, a nurse, and Mary O’Brien, a physician. Providing a somewhat alternative position was Margaret Flowers, a physician who has been involved for many years in advocating for a single payer system on the federal level. She pointed out the weaknesses of a state system and the various ways the federal government could sabotage it. This led to a detailed discussion of potential legal obstacles to a state program and the methods for overcoming these obstacles.
In addition to the scheduled speakers, local elected officials advocated for the bill with short statements. These included Congressman Jerry Nadler, Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and City Council Member Carlina Rivera.
After all the presenters on the panel and elected representatives spoke, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions and make statements for and against the legislation. In a spirited detailed back and forth question and answer session, which lasted almost an hour and a half, many views were expressed, with the majority appearing to support the bill.
There was no formal resolution adopted by the audience, but a follow-up did take place on Thursday, October 10th at the monthly meeting of the Village Independent Democrats at Lenox Health Greenwich Village on West 13th street. Another detailed spirited discussion ensued, topped off by a statement by State Senator Brad Hoylman, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. A resolution was passed by the membership urging the legislature to pass the bill, and the governor (who will be running for another term) to sign it.
One resolution coming from one club in a busy election year legislative session might not get much attention. Advocates for the bill are hoping that the sponsoring clubs, other Democratic clubs, and the general public will express support for it. As occupied as we will be with other events in Albany and Washington, decisions and policies still need to be addressed. This forum helped to give people the information they will need to decide on action.