By Penny Mintz
With the COVID pandemic still raging, the need for universal health care has became obvious. Your COVID illness is, after all, a threat to me and to everyone else. No one would go without treatment if the federal government were to enact Medicare for All, but that probably won’t happen in my lifetime. Fortunately, we have a potential solution here in New York in the form the NY Health Act.
When enacted, the Health Act will provide single-payer, universal health care—without premiums, co-pays, deductibles, or limited provider networks—to all New Yorkers and all people who work in the state and their families. It will also provide fair compensation to hospitals so that a good part of the economic incentive to shutter hospitals will cease to exist.
There is a cost, of course, but that cost is less than what we cumulatively spend on premiums, co-pays, deductibles, the cost of processing insurance claims, and the massive profits siphoned off by insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and medical-device companies. According to the Rand Corporation, a conservative think tank, the total savings for New York State will be $10 billion a year. According to economists at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the savings will be $45 billion a year.
The NY Health Act has passed in the State Assembly every year for the past five years and is one vote short of passage in the State Senate. Since all of us have been consumed with COVID and with the election, the Act has gotten little attention these last nine months. Nevertheless, people have never stopped working for its passage. Among them are the members of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a nonprofit organization of 20,000 physicians and other New York health professionals.
According to Marc Lavietes, secretary of the metro New York chapter, PNHP has orchestrated a letter-writing campaign to elected officials. They are signing on local businesses, which would be relieved of dealing with the ever-rising costs and complexities of private insurance. Most significantly, PNHP is making “a huge statewide effort to get that extra State Senate vote,” says Lavietes.
Our local State Senators, Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh, have signed on as co-sponsors of the Act. But neither of them is pressing for passage. They could conduct town hall meetings on the subject, but they haven’t. They could appear at the many demonstrations and meetings that have been hosted by support groups. Hoylman appeared at one demonstration. They could use social media to promote passage of the act. Gustavo Rivera, chair of the Senate Health Committee, has 49 Facebook posts on the subject. Hoylman has two and Kavanagh has none. I found 20 Health Act tweets in the Rivera account. Hoylman has one and Kavanagh has none.
Most disturbingly, Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan and PNHP have been trying to meet with Brian Kavanagh to discuss the need for his active participation in efforts to pass the NY Health Act. PALM members have been trying unsuccessfully for two years. PNHP has been working on it for the last several months.
We need our elected officials to be responsive to their constituents. We need them to publicly and repeatedly press for passage of the NY Health Act. We need the Health Act to pass. Then we would get to the next step in the process: worrying about whether Governor Cuomo would continue to support insurance, big pharm, and big hospital interests over the needs of the people of the State of New York.
We need this to change.