Opinion: Join the Fight for Universal Health Care

April 29, 2017

On Thursday, May 4, I will be giving a talk on the New York Health Act, arguably one of the most significant pieces of legislation to ever hit New York, at 7:30 p.m. at the Roosevelt Island Senior Center. This legislation would improve our health and our finances. Its success would be an example for the rest of the country.  


If passed into law, the New York Health Act is poised to give every New Yorker, regardless of their employment status, immigration status, or income, healthcare – including medical, dental, vision, hearing, and prescription drugs. These services would not come with co-pays or deductibles, nor would they require co-insurance or pre-certifications, two practices common under our current system and the means by which insurance companies insert themselves between us and our doctors. 


Everyone would pay a graded insurance premium based upon their ability to pay. Close to 100% (98%) of all New Yorkers would save money. Those with the lowest incomes would pay the lowest premiums, or no premium at all. 


All money from government programs (Medicare, Medicaid, Child Health Plus) and all premium money would be pooled and medical expenses would be paid out of that pool. This plan has been studied by economist and professor Gerald Friedman who projected that this would save New York State $44.7 billion in the first year alone, costs now going to administrative expenses of the Managed Care companies and spent by doctors to administer their billings.


Better care, lower costs, universal coverage, with dental, vision, and hearing services included, sounds pretty good to me. Does it sound too good to be true? Consider that our Medicare system works pretty well. Of all major countries, only we don’t have universal health care. Meanwhile we have the highest costs and the worst outcomes. Can change happen in our lifetime? Absolutely. It could happen this year with a big enough will of the people. This bill has passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly for the last two years and it is very close to having enough votes to pass in the Senate.


A couple of weeks ago, I went to Albany, with fellow Islander and friend Lorraine Altman, to participate in the Campaign for New York Health and Physicians for a Single Payer Health Plan Lobby Day event. We were joined by 600 health-care professionals and patients to talk to senators and assembly members about the New York Health Act (Senate bill S.4840 sponsored by Gustavo Rivera and Assembly bill A.4738 sponsored by Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried). 


After a brief training session, we participated in a rally. Other ralliers spoke up about how the current disjointed and financially motivated health-care system has failed them. One woman said her brother committed suicide after being turned away from a psychiatric hospital because he had the wrong insurance. Then her mother died of grief, after which her father died of grief. It brought tears to my eyes.  



My role there was to talk in depth to the hesitant legislators with a small group of their constituents. Lorraine was on the “thank you brigade”, acknowledging the solid supporters. I stopped by Senator Serrano’s office to thank him for co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate. As frequently as I see Senator Serrano on Roosevelt Island, it was a thrill to see him in Albany doing what we elected him to do. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to see Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright; she was in session passing her three-part legislative package of workplace pay-equity bills (A 658, A 2549 and A 2425). Both Serrano and Seawright support the Health Care Act.  


Island pediatrician Dr. Katherine Grimm wrote a pointed letter in support of the legislation, and I gave copies to upwards of 50 legislators. The letter focused on how difficult it is for doctors and patients under the current system and why we need a single-payer plan. I was grateful to be equipped with such a comprehensive letter of support from a doctor.  


In the meantime, go to nyhealthact.com to learn more about the bill and sign the online petition in support of it. Reach me at ELPolivy@gmail.com for more information or to join the Indivisible Health Care committee.



Ellen Polivy, Indivisible Roosevelt Island



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