February 24, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
It won’t happen this year, but Assemblymember Richard Gottfried is determined to set up a single-payer health-care system in New York State—like Medicare, but with everything covered and no copayments or deductibles. Gottfried’s bill, sponsored in the state Senate by Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan), would set up a system called “New York Health,” under the Affordable Care Act provision that lets states establish their own health-care systems beginning in 2017.
It would be funded by a combination of payroll taxes and a surcharge on non-payroll income. It passed the Assembly Health Committee, which the Manhattan Democrat chairs, in January.
“There are two reasons why the vast majority of New Yorkers would be spending less than they spend today,” Gottfried says. “One is that we would be immediately cutting something like 20 to 30 cents out of the dollar that we now spend on insurance-company overhead and administrative expenses and profit. Secondly, because the cost would be apportioned based on ability to pay.”
The bill has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, health-care organizations such as the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, and several labor unions, among them the state AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America, United University Professions, and the stagehands' IATSE Local 1. Most of the state’s health-care unions are on board, including Local 1199 SEIU, the Committee of Interns and Residents, and the New York State Nurses Association, which Gottfried credits with introducing him to the concept of single-payer in 1991.
A similar bill passed the Assembly in 1992, and this year’s version has more than 70 cosponsors, but getting it through the legislature won’t be easy. In the Assembly, Gottfried says, the political staff “is concerned that this is a bill that can be characterized as doubling state taxes,” but if they can come to see it as a bill that would save most New Yorkers money by slashing what they pay to get health care, “then I think it becomes very politically appealing.” In the Senate, he adds, it’s unrealistic to expect it to reach the floor unless voters elect a solid Democratic majority this November, unseating the coalition of Republicans and renegade Democrats that now rules the upper house.
Nevertheless, Gottfried believes single-payer health care is an idea whose time has come. “I think we are now at a point where, with Obamacare being implemented in New York, it’s becoming very clear to people that even with all the improvements that the ACA has made, the insurance system still has profound flaws that are not going to be fixed by even a good set of patchwork changes.”
He also contends that it would be a much simpler system than Obamacare. Instead of having to buy insurance online, choosing from four different levels of plans offered by several different companies, and then having to verify their income, people would be automatically enrolled. The state already has tax-collecting and bill-paying systems in place, he adds.
“Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare Act on July 30, 1965, and 11 months later, they were paying claims,” he says. “That was in an era of dial telephones and typewriters and carbon paper—and in addition to everything else, they had to make sure that all the hospitals in the South were racially integrated. Somehow they did that in 11 months.”
* Assemblyman Dick Gottfried will be discussing the advantages of a single-payer healthcare system – Thursday morning February 27th at the LaborPress Healthcare Summit.