Health care meeting draws a crowd
HECTOR--The idea of good quality, free health care for everyone, including dental, vision and hearing care but without an increase in taxes sounds like an impossible dream to most people used to high health care insurance premiums, exclusions and networks. But surprisingly, not to New York State legislators who have figured out a way everyone could enjoy the same sort of worry-free access to health care they do. Passed three times by the New York State Assembly, the New York Health Act requires only approval by the New York State Senators to be enacted into law.
The bill--4738 in the New York State Assembly, 4840 in the State Senate--is officially summarized this way: "This bill would create a universal single payer health plan--New York Health--to provide comprehensive health coverage for all New Yorkers. Every New York resident would be eligible to enroll, regardless of age, income, wealth, employment, or other status."
A team of locally based individuals who have studied the bill and offer their individual perspectives on its benefits has been touring the Finger Lakes presenting information on it and urging each audience to contact their New York State senator to urge its passage. Wednesday, May 24, the panel offered an informational program at the Valois-Logan-Hector Fire Hall in Hector. An audience of close to 70 people turned out to listen. Schuyler County legislator Michael Lausell moderated.
The meeting began with a screening of part of the video "Fix It: Health Care at the Tipping Point"--available to everyone on YouTube. While not every situation in this video applied to each person in the room, it highlighted health care dilemmas everyone could understand.
Then Dr. Susan Soboroff led off, with a bewildering recital of numbers that seemed to come into clearer focus as the evening progressed. As a physician, she had to hire extra staff to deal with the requirements of multiple insurance companies--patients are covered by more than 200 different health care plans in Tompkins County alone. And as everyone knows, many aspects of individual health insurance coverage serve as barriers to care when access to treatments, medicines, time with a health care provider getting questions answered or diagnostic procedures is denied.
Soboroff noted this was frustrating to her as a doctor. But, "When we have everyone in the system, everyone's health improves. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?"
Susan Beckley, an administrator for four area small businesses, unpacked the numbers a little more. The bottom line, as the audience heard several times over the course of the evening, is that commercial health insurance companies are in business to make money, and thus their expenses run to enviable CEO and other administrative salaries, advertising and recruitment of enrollees, amounting to up to 30 percent of their profits. In contrast, a publicly administered single-payer program racks up a mere two to three percent of their funding in administrative costs.
Health insurance is such a large business that the difference, say those who have studied it, is nearly enough to fund health care for everyone. Any additional costs are made up with a progressive payroll tax where those at the lower end of the wage scale pay nothing, but as income climbs, a modest incremental amount is assessed. Passive income, such as money earned from investments, is also moderately taxed. This system is said to be sustainable.
"Only two percent of New Yorkers would pay more than they do now," Beckley said, adding there would be no agents or brokers fees, no claims denials, no marketing, no dividend payments to shareholders, no marketing, no high salaries for upper management. Property taxes would be reduced due to the elimination of the Medicaid mandate--one estimate puts this at a 50 to 60 percent reduction. Business owners could focus on business, instead of having to pay ever-increasing amounts for their share of employee insurance. In an improved business climate, New York State could potentially become a magnet for many more businesses. In contrast, currently 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in New York State are due to high medical bills.
Tony Del Plato, a small business owner and trustee for the village of Interlaken, offered a few more numbers. Currently, of 19.8 million New Yorkers, he said, six percent are uninsured and 24 percent are on Medicaid. "Healthcare is a fundamental human right," he stated. "Even if you're not a bleeding-heart liberal, you don't want to catch someone else's bugs!"
Small business owner Michele Griego-Stillions called the steep upward climb in health insurance premiums "Very scary. In 2012, the average family plan cost $12,000. In 2016, it had risen to $21,400. And in some counties [like Tompkins County] premiums would be 20 percent higher. I don't understand that, maybe you do? But why is it my responsibility as an employer to share this burden?"
In a lively question-and-answer session after the panel discussion, a few more points were raised. No one would lose their Medicare, the mostly-gray-haired audience was told. Recipients would only lose their secondary "Medigap" coverage because it would become redundant. And the premium extracted from social security payments would disappear. Veterans could choose other facilities than the VA if they wanted.
"Everyone in, Nobody out," means everyone living in New York State would be covered, in the same way Americans are generally covered when they encounter a health emergency while traveling in another country with universal health coverage. Or to put it differently, all New Yorkers might enjoy the same health benefits as their law-makers.
Like all laws, there's choice involved. Those who wish to learn more about it can find more online information at nyhcampaign.org. And those who contact their state senators have the option of making their choice known.