It’s Time for New York State to Pass Universal Healthcare


With the repeal of the Affordable Care Act going full steam ahead with no replacement on the horizon, it’s now a distinct possibility that 2.7 million New Yorkers (over half of whom reside in New York City) could find themselves without health care in the near future. In response to this looming threat, governor Andrew Cuomo has warned about the dire consequences of a full repeal, but has not stated what his plan would be when it actually proceeds. Desperate times usually call for desperate measures, but what if the answer to New York’s possible healthcare apocalypse wasn’t something that had to be conjured out of thin air, but rather something that had already passed the state assembly three times? Wouldn’t that be something worth considering?

The New York Health Act would turn New York into the nation’s first single-payer state by expanding the state’s Medicare system to everyone. And, according to its supporters, it would save money at the same time. It would also mean squaring off against the New York insurance industry — but with Republicans hellbent on making health care as unaffordable as possible anyway, now might just be the perfect time for New York to go single-payer. So argues state Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who first proposed and passed the bill through the assembly in 1992, and then again in 2015 and 2016, with plans to reintroduce it again this year.

“This is really doable. I think not only has a single payer system been a major need for a long time, but all the things the Republicans are planning on doing to Medicare and Medicaid, will make it a whole lot worse for everyone but the wealthiest New Yorkers,” Gottfried told the Voice. “The need for New York to act now is even more compelling than ever before.”

Gottfried’s plan would finance a universal medicare expansion through progressive taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. General savings on the program would come from the state’s ability to buy pharmaceuticals in bulk, while the legislation would be written in a way that everything that Medicaid and Medicare currently cover, like eye care and dental, will also be covered under the expansion.

“There’s nothing more rigged against working people than our health care system,” Gottfried said. “It’s funded by customers whose costs are set with little to no regard with ability to pay, and it’s not something you can afford to be without.”

Skeptics of Gottfried’s plan insist that the red-tape of a state run system would leave people waiting for days to get health care, but that simply hasn’t been the case for the state’s medicaid expansion (not to mention its 3.3 million Medicare enrollees).

Both Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli supported the plan when it first came through Albany, with Schneiderman sponsoring the senate version of the bill in 2008. Last year’s version had over 30 co-sponsors in the state assembly.

The Voice has reached out to both the Attorney General and State Comptroller’s office to see if they remain in support of the bill, and will update if they get back to us. We’ve asked the governor as well, but with Cuomo’s brutal sabotaging of a Democratic-controlled senate, the bill seems likely to stall out until the senate (or governor’s mansion) can be flipped.

“The problems with our current system are pretty serious and about to get a whole lot worse,” Gottfried said, calling on New York politicians to begin thinking rationally. “I believe the only way a state can protect its people from what Washington is doing, the only way you can do that affordably is to adopt a single-payer system.”