Biaggi makes single-payer case during seniors visit


One of Alessandra Biaggi’s main issues she championed on the campaign trail to win the state senate seat she now holds was passage of what could become the country’s first single-payer health care system, the New York Health Act.

Now, the senator is making good on her promise with plans to push the health care bill through her chamber where it stalled many times before. But first, Biaggi took some time last week to stop by RSS-Riverdale Senior Services to hear what baby boomers and the Silent Generation had to say about what would likely be the biggest reinvention of health care in the state’s history.

“Every single New Yorker, no matter what their income bracket or the job you have or where you live, you will be able to have health care,” Biaggi shared during a forum at the 2600 Netherland Ave., location. “Health care that is not only affordable, but (you will be) able to have all the things not covered by your current insurance plan.”

The plan would essentially be Medicare for All, the senator said, but instituted at the state level.

Gone would be medical insurance through private carriers. Instead, health care would become a government service, paid for by taxes.

Both California and Vermont have tried to pass similar bills, but failed.

Although the New York Health Act has made it through the Assembly more than once, the Republican-controlled senate never considered it.

But the Republicans are no longer in power, and Biaggi says she’s determined to make history throughout New York. Not only would it shift the financial burden of health services, but pharmaceutical companies would no longer have all the power when it comes to prescription pricing as the government — not the insurance companies — would be a major player at the negotiation table, Biaggi added.

Getting the bill passed is easier now with Democrats in control — making sure it works the way it’s intended is something Biaggi is being quite careful about. That’s why forums like the one at RSS are important to her.

“Health care is a basic human right,” the senator said. “We do not believe people should have to wait any longer for health care.”

Under the current bill, people will still have their choice of doctors, hospitals and care, said Bobbie Sackman, member leader of New York Caring Majority, an advocacy group pushing single-payer.

Long-term care will remain covered, important services for many who are elderly or disabled.

Biaggi said it was through her grandparents she was able to see firsthand the importance of quality long-term care. Her grandmother’s health, instead of improving, declined when she was placed into a nursing home compared to her grandfather, who was given in-home care and outlived her.

The New York Health Act also would eliminate medication rationing and waiting lists, Biaggi said.

“Medicare somehow left out your teeth, your ears and your eyes,” Sackman said. “So whoever wrote this law was blind, couldn’t chew, and couldn’t hear. I’m saying that facetiously of course.”

The plan, however, likely means higher taxes, and some people like Yona Bello aren’t for that.

“If it does pass, Florida here I come,” Bello said. “Aetna has a huge service program, and so top doctors are taking it. You get an annual visit for free, and I get free vision. We’re going to see an exit on good doctors in New York.”

Bello, who considers herself middle class, is not looking forward to paying taxes needed to support the act when New York City already has such high taxes. And it doesn’t hurt Bello is happy with her current plan through Aetna.

Bello isn’t alone. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been wishy-washy on the bill, and it’s not exactly clear what might happen once the New York Health Act reaches his desk.

But then again, not everyone has the kind of insurance Bello and others enjoy, Biaggi said. In fact, some 600,000 New Yorkers don’t have health insurance.

“This is an important piece of legislation because it affects every single person in New York State, and especially could affect the entire country because it could inspire other states,” Biaggi said. “If we could get this right in New York, which I think that we can, it will allow for other states to follow form.

“So this is where things like this happen.”