Health care for all New Yorkers starting summer of 2019

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

NEW YORK – A day after Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a budget that would make California the only state in the nation to provide medical coverage to undocumented young adults, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday that all New Yorkers would be guaranteed health care, including 600,000 uninsured individuals.

The program, called NYC Care, will launch this summer from the Bronx, and eventually cover all the five boroughs, by 2021, at an estimated cost of $100 million a year.

“Health care isn’t just a right in theory, it must be a right in practice. Today I’m announcing a plan to guarantee health care for all New Yorkers. Through our own public option and a new program called NYC Care, we’ll ensure the first stop for people isn’t the emergency room,” de Blasio wrote on Twitter, and announced his initiative on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.

“When this plan is fully implemented every New Yorker who needs a doctor will have an actual doctor with a name and a place, they’re going to have a card that will empower them to go to that doctor whenever they need. A primary care doctor, an actual person that you can turn to that’s your doctor, and the specialty services that will make all the difference,” de Blasio said.

“You might say right at the jump is this something that ideally should be handled in Washington, D.C. or in Albany? Yes it should. Let me just make that clear at the outset. The ultimate solution is single payer health insurance for this whole country, or Medicare for all. That’s the ideal, that what we need,” de Blasio said. “In the last couple of years there’s been tremendous focus, tremendous energy, pinpoint precision in Washington among Republicans trying to reduce the amount of health care people get. Trying to take away the right to health care. Trying to water down Obamacare and debilitate it. Lots of time and energy has been put into taking away health care from tens of millions of people. What we’re doing here in New York City? We’re getting health care to a lot of people who’ve never had it before. We’re going the opposite direction. We’re going to get it to everyone.”

Newsom’s proposal will expand the Affordable Care Act’s financial assistance to middle-income Californians, said reports. His plan will expand access to financial assistance to individuals earning up to $72,840 and families of four earning up to $150,600.

De Blasio’s plan seems squarely targeted at the uninsured, including the undocumented residents.

In a press release, the Mayor’s office gave details of the plan, touted as the ‘largest, most comprehensive plan in the nation to guarantee health care for every New Yorker.’

All services will be affordable on a sliding scale. The programs will include customer-friendly call lines to help New Yorkers – regardless of their insurance – make appointments with general practitioners, cardiologists, pediatricians, gynecologists and a full spectrum of health care services.

The release said that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, eight million New Yorkers now have health insurance, and the uninsured rate is about nearly half of what it was in 2013. In the last two years, New York City’s Public Engagement Unit coordinated signing up more than 130,000 New Yorkers for plans through the exchanges created by the law. However, about 600,000 New Yorkers remain without insurance, because they do not or cannot enroll.

The City aims to better connect people to more effective and affordable health care in one of two ways:

NYC Care: The city will connect hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are ineligible for health insurance – including undocumented New Yorkers and those who cannot afford insurance – to reliable care. Anyone will be able to access comprehensive care across NYC Health + Hospitals’ more than 70+ locations, once the program is fully ramped up. NYC Care is open to anyone who does not have an affordable insurance option and will be priced on a sliding scale, to ensure affordability. NYC Care will provide a primary care doctor and will provide access to specialty care, prescription drugs, mental health services, hospitalization, and more.

NYC’s Public Option: The City will double down on efforts to boost enrollment in MetroPlus, the City’s public option. MetroPlus provides free or affordable health insurance that connects insurance-eligible New Yorkers to a network of providers that includes NYC Health + Hospitals’ 11 hospitals and 70 clinics.

MetroPlus serves as an affordable, quality option for people on Medicaid, Medicare, and those purchasing insurance on the exchange.

“The City is committed to strengthening MetroPlus and connecting more independent workers, City vendors and City workers to that option. It also will improve the quality of the MetroPlus customer experience through improved access to clinical care, mental health services, and wellness rewards for healthy behavior,” said the release.

The City is taking an unprecedented approach to health care services by tackling mental and physical issues holistically. Through both programs, New Yorkers will be able to access addiction services and opioid treatment, mental health counseling, and counseling services for trauma victims. New Yorkers will be able to call MetroPlus or 311 to be screened for health insurance eligibility and get connected to their best coverage option.

De Blasio’s announcement was met with hearty enthusiasm by civic leaders. Some reactions:

“Expanding access to care is a key step in eliminating health disparities in our city,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “The Affordable Care Act started us down this path, but it is time to finish the job.”

City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Hospitals: “Let’s say it loud and clear today – healthcare is a basic human right. No New Yorker should ever have to choose between paying for their health or putting food on the table.”

Ady Barkan, Center for Popular Democracy: “For one hundred years, the progressive movement has fought for an America where everyone has the medical care they need. I hope to live to see the establishment of Medicare For All, finally achieving that dream. I am eager to see it succeed, transforming the lives of so many New Yorkers and proving to the country that universal health care is possible.”

Jennifer March, Executive Director of Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York: “Children are more likely to be insured when their parents are insured, and expanding coverage options will lead to healthier families and healthier communities.”

Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of 21,000-membet New York Taxi Workers Alliance: “Most of New York City’s professional drivers already rely on Health and Hospitals clinics and hospitals for primary care and emergency services.  This initiative can fill voids that still exist in access to care and will be a lifeline for New Yorkers who, like many of our members, don’t qualify for Medicaid but still can’t afford premiums. And it will finally allow our undocumented neighbors access to much-needed healthcare services. The initiative could transform NYC into a global city leading our country in common sense and compassion with universal healthcare coverage.”

de Blasio’s move is sure to make affordable health care a critical topic of discussion in the 2020 Presidential elections, along with immigration, and the state of the economy.

A new analysis from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, released on Tuesday, note that Americans spend more than twice as much on health care per person as their peers in developed nations.

It’s not because people in the US use more medical services. Instead, it’s because drugs cost more, doctors and nurses are paid better, hospital administration is more expensive and many medical services have higher price tags, the study found, reported CNN.

The new analysis – an update of a well-known 2003 report by Princeton health care economist Uwe Reinhardt titled “It’s the prices, stupid” – found that the US remains an outlier when it comes to spending, which was $9,892 per person in 2016. That compares to a median of $4,033 for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in 2016 and to the $4,559 the US spent per person in 2000, adjusted for inflation, said the report.

“In spite of all the efforts in the US to control health spending over the past 25 years, the story remains the same,” said lead author Gerard Anderson, a Johns Hopkins professor. “The US remains the most expensive because of the prices the US pays for health services.”

One reason for the jump in spending increase is the widening gap between what the federal government reimburses for Medicare and what private insurers and employers pay for those with job-based coverage, Anderson said, reported CNN. In 2000, the difference was roughly 10%. Now, studies have shown it has widened to 50% or more.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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