De Blasio guarantees health care to all New Yorkers

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to guarantee health care for all New Yorkers on Tuesday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to guarantee health care for all New Yorkers on Tuesday. Photo Credit: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

All New York City residents will be guaranteed health care under a city program, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. 

NYC Care will aim to reach 600,000 New Yorkers who don’t currently have health insurance, de Blasio said. Those people include “young invincibles,” who think they don’t need health care, people who can’t afford the plans currently offered by the public health insurance exchange, MetroPlus, and about 300,000 “undocumented New Yorkers” who are not eligible for the exchange, the mayor said.

The program will be operational this year, and New Yorkers will be able to call 311 or go to the nyc.gov website to apply for a card and get the name of an NYC Health + Hospitals primary care doctor. Information on the immigration status of NYC Care enrollees “will not be accessible” to the federal government, the mayor said at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Participants will have guaranteed access to specialists, prescriptions, mental health services, substance abuse services and more. NYC Care will not be offered as an insurance plan. Instead, the city will be “paying for direct, comprehensive care (not just ERs) for people who can’t afford it, or can’t get comprehensive Medicaid,” de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips said on Twitter.

Though NYC Health + Hospitals already provides health care regardless of an ability to pay, NYC Care will shift the focus on getting preventative care, rather than the emergency room being “the default place to get health care,” de Blasio said.

The mayor did not give specifics about the cost of the care, but said there will be “a sliding scale,” and if someone is not able to pay at all, it will be free. “No one will be turned away,” he said.

The program has an expected annual cost of $100 million, but de Blasio noted that the city will not raise taxes to pay for it.

“There is a lot of money right now in our health system that can be used a lot better,” he said, explaining that if more people see doctors regularly, fewer people will end up in emergency rooms, where care is much more expensive.

The mayor noted that Health + Hospitals was “teetering on bankruptcy” just a few years ago, but is currently running a surplus, which is “part of what’s allowing for” NYC Care.

The city also will work toward enrolling more people who are eligible for and able to afford the public health insurance exchange, MetroPlus.

De Blasio contrasted his plan with efforts in Washington, D.C., to roll back the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature program that President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal. 

“Lots of time and energy has been put into taking away health care from tens of millions of people,” he said. “We’re going the opposite direction. We’re going to get it to everyone.” 

A federal judge in Texas ruled in December that the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires coverage, is unconstitutional, and therefore the law could not stand. However, the ACA remains in effect while being challenged by several state attorneys general. 

De Blasio’s announcement comes a day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also vowed to counter actions in Washington.

The governor urged the legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act and the Contraceptive Care Act, saying New Yorkers’ reproductive rights are threatened by a conservative Supreme Court that may overturn Roe v. Wade protections.