Gottfried sees hope for single-payer care

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.

BY GABE HERMAN | Assemblymember Richard Gottfried presented details of his single-payer healthcare bill to the Community Board 6 Health and Education Committee in late April.

Gottfried — who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Health — has sponsored the New York Health Act in the state Assembly since 1992. There now seems to be growing momentum among Democrats, including on the national level, for a single-payer system, which has been endorsed by many of the Democratic presidential nominees.

The bill would give universal health coverage to all New Yorkers. It would eliminate premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket costs, co-pays, co-insurance and out-of-network charges. Progressive taxes, including payroll and non-payroll, would help pay for the new health system.

A flier handed out by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried’s office at the meeting. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Gottfried said at the meeting that, over all, $11 billion would be saved under the new healthcare system. While $44 billion more would be spent to provide coverage to everyone, there would be $55 billion in savings, including $20 billion from administrative costs and savings from lower drug prices and reimbursements to providers, according to the plan.

Gottfried stressed the urgent need for reforms in the healthcare system. He said that medical costs are the top reason for personal bankruptcies in New York.

He noted that his own parents had their lifetime savings wiped out from medical costs from needed home care. In the current system, often a family member has to give up a career to stay home and care for a sick relative, he said.

Gottfried also cited a study that found 60 percent of American households could not afford a sudden expense of $1,000, and he noted that the average family deductible for health insurance is $3,200.

“I think this is something that we should all be pretty angry about,” Gottfried said of the current healthcare system.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.

Premiums and deductibles are both rising much faster than wages, Gottfried said, and employers are shifting more of the cost of healthcare to their workers through higher deductibles, which are out-of-pocket expenses.

Insurance plans have restricted networks and many insurance companies will unfairly deny coverage for a service, and assume the customer will get frustrated and eventually go away, Gottfried said. He added that insurers benefit when sick patients go to another company.

“Insurance companies really don’t like having customers who use healthcare,” he said. “Think about that the next time you hear that insurance companies compete. They compete by getting people who need their coverage walking away and going to the other company.”

A flier handed out by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried’s office at the meeting. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

New York expends tens of millions of dollars on things that don’t make people healthier, Gottfried said, including bureaucracy, administrative costs, and not having bargaining clout with drug companies on prices.

When questions were taken from community board members and the audience, Gottfried was asked if people could buy extra insurance on top of the new plan. Gottfried said that would be allowed if the insurance found something that his bill doesn’t cover.

Another person asked about preventing people moving here from other states for the healthcare benefits. Gottfried said New York has expanded its Medicaid eligibility and other health coverage, but that people didn’t migrate here for programs like Medicaid or Child Health Plus, so there was no evidence that would be such a problem.

Gottfried’s bill has passed the state Assembly the past four years, but never came to a vote in the Republican-led state Senate. Gottfried told this paper after the meeting that, now with a new Democratic state Senate, he is optimistic the measure can be passed. However, a vote on the bill reportedly won’t come up in the state Senate before 2020, and the issue continues to be debated.

Gottfried was asked by the community board, which includes the East Side between 14th and 59th Sts., how his health bill would help the district, since its area has a very low uninsured rate. The assemblymember responded that most of his discussions about the bill don’t focus on uninsured New Yorkers, but the millions who have insurance but run into what he called “brick walls” in dealing with insurance company denials, and face high fees, such as deductibles.

“This bill,” Gottfried said, “is primarily about the millions of New Yorkers who, in theory, have health coverage, and suffer with it anyway.”