NYC Council approves bill expanding health care access for uninsured New Yorkers

The first members of the Hassebroek family are vaccinated in New York
Naomi Hassebroek receives her second COVID-19 vaccine at NYC Health+Hospitals Gotham Health Sydenham in Manhattan on March 29, 2021.
REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

The New York City Council passed a bill Thursday that would expand access to primary care services for the uninsured.

At the council’s Sept. 9 stated meeting, bill sponsor and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson advocated for the new Primary Care Services and Patient Navigation Program to be established by the legislation. 

To ensure that primary care services are available in every borough and community, Johnson said before the vote, “This bill is going to help hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who currently are uninsured and don’t have primary care access across New York City and don’t live in a place that’s near a health and hospital facility.”

The bill requires NYC Health + Hospitals facilities, federally-funded care facilities and other not-for-profit facilities to expand their services, according to a press release.

“According to the 2018 community health survey conducted by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, roughly 12% of the city’s residents don’t have health insurance,” Johnson said, making them less likely to get preventative care.

Johnson and the bill’s co-sponsor, Manhattan Councilman Mark Levine, said that the pandemic underscores the need for support for the uninsured, who face inequalities in other systems outside of the healthcare system. 

“We have seen the dire consequences the lack of access to quality services has for our city as a whole,” Levine said in a statement.

For adults 18-64, more than half of them have health insurance through their employer. As the pandemic ravages the economy and directly influences the job market, it influences health care as well. Tapping into these resources was important to Levine for that reason.

Though Johnson said he has been working on this legislation for years, the bill has a crucial COVID-safe piece: telemedicine. This landmark decision comes on the heels of the spreading popularity of telemedicine during the pandemic. 

“​​The bill will also require the Health Access Program to offer a telemedicine service providing access for patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Johnson said. 

Though many services like NYC Care are available to those without insurance, those in Sunset Park, Brownsville, and the Bronx are still missing out on less-expensive care. “[They] have no H+H facility and thousands of undocumented people, thousands of uninsured people living there,” Councilman Levine said. 

NYC Health + Hospitals is already the largest provider of uninsured healthcare in the Five Boroughs. Expansion of low-cost and no-cost services, Levine said, is necessary because today’s programs “has a very serious limitation.”

The bill would be enacted should Mayor Bill de Blasio sign it.