New York’s Obamacare Alternative

Push is on to pass long-stymied state health care act

By Jeff Simms

For New York residents concerned about health care, the month of January could be critical.

The 2018 session of the state Legislature begins in January, typically during the first week. About three weeks later, Jan. 31 marks the deadline for New Yorkers who are insured through the federal Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) to purchase health insurance for 2018.

Residents insured through the ACA’s marketplace are expected to see around a 15 percent increase in the price of “silver” plans, the most popular level of coverage, but the upcoming legislative session may provide some relief in 2019 and beyond.

“The writing is on the wall that very, very severe cuts are coming down the pike,” for the ACA, said Katie Robbins, the director of the Campaign for New York Health, a coalition that supports the creation of a single-payer system overseen by a state agency. “Now, the pressure is going to continue for New York State to figure out how to provide health care in the face of losing a lot of federal support.”

The state Assembly first passed the New York Health Act, a single-payer health bill in 1992, but the bill didn’t make it through the Senate. It has been re-introduced each year since then, winning approval in the Assembly in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Last May the bill fell short in the Senate by a single vote.

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The Howland Public Library in Beacon is also offering residents free help from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Friday through Jan. 26. Certified navigators from the Maternal-Infant Services Network will be available to help guide participants through the health care enrollment process.

To schedule an appointment, call MISN at 1-800-453-4666.

However, with the ACA in the Trump administration’s crosshairs, Assemblyman Frank Skartados, who represents Beacon, agrees that the pressure is on to give New Yorkers an alternative.

“New York State would lose as much as $2 billion” if the ACA is dismantled, he said, adding that it would be a “terrible decision on the part of Washington.” But, he said, “looking at what happened with the recent elections, it encourages me that something could happen in the [state] Senate this year.”

Frank Skartados

The single-payer health care model would have New York create a payroll-tax-supported public fund to pay for residents’ medical costs. All New Yorkers would be covered, and advocates say the program would slash prices by cutting out administrative and private insurance-related fees.

Although taxes would increase, proponents also contend that New York residents would save overall due to lowered health care premiums.

The program would offer participants full medical, dental and vision coverage and the freedom to choose their own provider, Robbins said.

“It would be an improved version of Medicare for all residents of New York state that would guarantee that New Yorkers have access to high-quality health care that they could afford,” she said. “We hope that elected officials of all stripes will recognize its benefits.”

Therein lies the difficulty.

State Sen. Kemp Hannon, a Republican from Nassau County who is the chairman of the health committee, has said the Senate won’t consider a single-payer bill until he gets authorization to do so from the Trump administration. Instead, Hannon has said he expects to monitor the activity in Washington, where he believes federal lawmakers are more likely to come up with an alternative to the ACA.

Kemp Hannon

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has lashed out at the federal government, saying that Congress has put 350,000 children in the state at risk by letting the Children’s Health Insurance Program expire at the end of September. In addition, Cuomo has said that New York stands to lose $2.6 billion in funding from the federal Disproportionate Share Hospital program, which helps hospitals recoup the costs of caring for the uninsured.

As the legislative session draws closer, Robbins says the time is right for New York to adopt its own system of health care, although it won’t be easy, she cautions.

“We need to continue to create heat” on the state Legislature, she said. “It’s clear that this is going to take a lot of grassroots pressure.”

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