Op-ed | The city must clean up healthcare and hospitals pricing now

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As Borough Presidents of The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, we have the honor of representing over 8 million New Yorkers. Spanning hundreds of diverse neighborhoods, more languages and cultures than any other State, and interests more vast than Central Park, it’s hard to imagine any one issue that could be so important, so omnipresent throughout our communities that our collective conscience demands we speak out in one unified voice. But we found it: healthcare and hospital affordability.

From being a barrier to accessing affordable care to making it harder for businesses and the city to provide health coverage for their employees, unfair and unnecessary hospital pricing is a threat to all New Yorkers.

Whether you’re an individual living in Harlem, a family in Far Rockaway, a small business owner in Brownsville, or a municipal employee from East Tremont, rising hospital prices affect us all. By acting as a barrier to accessing quality and causing unnecessary hardships on private businesses and the City as a whole — even rising to the level of making it harder for them to provide health coverage for their employees — unfair and unnecessary hospital pricing is a threat to all New Yorkers.

That is why we have joined together to support the Healthcare Accountability & Consumer Protection Act. This bill, which is currently moving through the Council’s hearing and legislative process, and has the support of more than 75 percent of its members, would tear down barriers to pricing transparency and build real accountability on rising healthcare and hospital prices.

The bill would create a new Office of Healthcare Affordability, the first of its kind on the municipal governmental level, nationally. This Office will give the City a powerful audit and data collection tool for consumers, businesses and the City itself to make better and more informed healthcare purchasing decisions, which in turn will lead to better outcomes and more savings for workers, families and our City’s government.

There is no denying that healthcare and hospital prices are already draining the City’s budget and threatening financially strapped working people. We have seen medical debt become the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the country, and with hospital prices now representing the single biggest escalator of healthcare costs, it should come as no surprise that families are struggling to find and maintain affordable care. In fact, an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that over the past decade, the rate at which health premiums in New York has grown is 16 percent higher than the growth in wages, and more than twice that of inflation.

While New York is spending more per capita on healthcare than any other State, the higher costs haven’t actually even come with better quality of care. Our state sits near the bottom of national performance measures, ranking 47th out of 50 on hospital quality.

Indeed, a new study by the Lown Institute showed that many private hospitals, classified as “charitable organizations” are acting anything but charitably when it comes to community investments. The report found that nine major NYC hospitals had taken $727 million more in tax breaks than what they invested in local community benefits, all the while their prices continue to soar.

At least nine other states have established similar offices to what is being proposed in NYC, which authorizes a central entity to collect, analyze, and monitor information on healthcare costs and create cost-growth benchmarks. The results have spoken in other localities: from 2014 to 2020, each of these states had lower per-capita healthcare spending growth when compared to New York.

These examples of how we can address the lack of transparency to better examine and ultimately bring down costs are a clear model for our city to follow.

Pricing accountability is a “must” to lead the way to healthcare affordability, starting with passing the Healthcare Accountability & Consumer Protection Act into law, to give the City an entity that will be as strong as any disinfectant used by hospitals to finally clean up the mess of hospital pricing.

Vanessa L. Gibson is Bronx Borough President, Antonio Reynoso is Brooklyn Borough President, Mark Levine is Manhattan Borough President and Donovan Richards is Queens Borough President.