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NY Senate Considers Proposal for Single Payer Healthcare

Once considered a long shot, some New York lawmakers are now expressing support for a single payer healthcare plan.

single payer healthcare in new york

Source: Thinkstock

By Jesse Migneault

- Since the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains unclear, and GOP plans to repeal and replace have stalled, states are taking the lead in finding solutions to the rising costs of health care.  New York has joined California as the most recent state to introduce a bill to create a universal single payer healthcare plan for all of its residents.

Senate bill S4840 has been introduced onto the floor and moved into committee. The bill would establish New York Health, a universal single payer healthcare network.  A similar bill passed the assembly in 2016 but was not taken up by the Senate.  A new Assembly version will be introduced this year and is expected to have a vote by summer.

The recent addition of support by Senator Jeffrey Kline and the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) has brought the bill as close to success as it ever has been, although it is not a done deal.  The Republican party holds a one seat majority.  IDC does not automatically caucus with the Democrats, who support the bill, and its votes have led to previous defeats of similar legislation.

“While the federal Affordable Care Act has done a lot of good, it’s clear that a lot of problems remain – and if we want to fix them, we have to do it ourselves,” said Assembly member Richard Gottfried, lead sponsor of the original assembly bill.

Proponents of a universal healthcare plan point to the financial savings it would offer residents.  A recent study of the New York Health Act by UMass Amherst professor and economics chair Gerald Friedman contends that the plan could save over $70 billion in 2019 alone. 

The savings would come from reduced billing expense, less administrative waste and the undoing of pricing monopolies for drugs and medical devices.  The bill would save almost $45 billion in its first year, even while expanding coverage to everyone, resulting in a savings of $2200 per person.

Critics of a universal single payer system point to potential financial burdens, an argument refuted by Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar. 

“The facts are undeniable: New York Health, based on my conservative estimates, would reduce City and School District tax rates by at least 20 percent and could eliminate many County property taxes entirely. Getting full healthcare coverage while cutting property taxes seems like a no-brainer to me.”

In Friedman’s study, the bill would pay for the services with a graduated pay roll tax.  Currently, 12.8 percent of payroll costs go to health care. Under New York Health, the study estimates a drop to 8.1 percent.  

There would also be an assessment of non-payroll income such as capital gains and other investment profits.  As a result, 98 percent of households earning $75,000 or below would spend less on healthcare than they do currently.

Supporters of the bill contend that residents would be able to access services more comprehensively.  It would eliminate co-pays, deductibles and network limitations, which keep some patients away from seeking care. 

“The New York Health Act is a universal, single payer system that would guarantee equal access to care that is funded fairly – something every New Yorker and resident of this country deserves.” said Oliver Fein, MD, Chair of Physicians for a National Health Program-NY Metro. 

Fein went on to state that if New York Health became law, it would erase the time he spends fighting insurers to approve procedures.

The bill has been endorsed by numerous civic and labor groups, as well as by the medical community.  This includes the New York State associations representing physicians, nurses, pediatrics, interns and residents among others. 

A vote is expected to come up in the next several months for the Assembly bill.  The Senate bill, if unable to get a majority, may have to wait until after the 2018 elections.  


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