Health reform needed now


To the editor:

(re: “We’re pretty well covered now,” April 29)

Images of happy New Yorkers released from coronavirus restrictions flood the media. But COVID-19 continues imprisoning too many.

So-called “long COVID” has tens of thousands needing continued medical care — and uncontrolled, often non-reimbursed financial suffering.

Now more than ever, let’s encourage our legislators to pass the New York Health Act.

Why now? Because federal legislation — like for-profit health insurance — is failing to keep us financially safe, despite giving bailouts and waivers to health care providers and insurers. New Yorkers today are mourning the deaths of loved ones, suffering from the after-effect of long COVID, and facing heart-stopping medical bills from hospitals and insurance companies for what we thought were covered services.

How can this happen? Clever billing systems — a by-product of for-profit funding of our health care — recode services to bill patients for millions of dollars, bypassing the federal coronavirus rules.

The profiteers find loopholes to the pandemic financial agreements — and lobby mightily against New York Health — seeking to ensure long-term financial gains from the pandemic.

Insurance companies doubled their profits in 2020. Buoyed by federal bailout money, hospital corporations went on huge spending sprees, invested their “excess revenue” in the growing stock market, and bought out smaller — competing — hospitals.

Here in the Bronx, Montefiore Hospital still has not reached an agreement with UnitedHealth Group, forcing policyholders to find other insurance, or to change trusted doctors. City retirees — 245,000 of them — are being unwillingly removed from their traditional Medicare, and forced to accept Medicare Advantage — privatized Medicare that limits their choice of doctors and hospitals, and charges taxpayers more than Medicare, including through excess billing and fraud.

Hospitals and insurance companies have attacked with fake news, even in The Riverdale Press as Wendy Darwell — director of the Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State — did recently.

She said that “we’re pretty well covered now.” Really? Are we covered when 50 percent of Bronx residents are on Medicaid — separate and unequal health care — while 29 percent have no insurance at all, and half the remaining residents — those with for-profit insurance — skip care because of cost?

We need a funding system that doesn’t siphon taxpayer dollars to private profits. A system that will reduce the cost of our health care by 30 percent — $850 billion per year that currently provides no health care to anyone. We need a funding system which reimburses physicians and hospitals fairly for poor patients as well as rich ones.

New York Health will be that funding system, and will eliminate the health care caste system that harms our elderly, our poor — and increasingly, our middle class.

New York Health will give every New Yorker all medically necessary care — from hospitalizations and doctor visits, prescriptions, vision, dental, hearing, long-term care, and reproductive, to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

New York Health is a single, equitable, high-quality and comprehensive plan, giving free choice or provider, no more networks, no cost-sharing, and no premiums.

The respected and centrist Rand Corp., concluded that New York Health will mean that 90 percent of New Yorkers will pay less than they currently do for better health care. That it will control costs far better than the current system, while dramatically reducing health disparities across races, ZIP codes and income levels. And it will stimulate the creation of 200,000 new jobs, encourage start-ups and small businesses, and increase the competitiveness of large businesses operating in the state against those in other states and other nations.

Additional analyses have described New York Health as having a “poverty reduction” side benefit, reducing state poverty by as much as 20 percent, since medical bills financially ruin tens of thousands of middle-class New Yorkers every year while forcing those with fewer resources into housing and food insecurity.

New York Health will also reduce the annual budgets of local governments by 20 percent or more, as they spend less on for-profit health insurance for employees.

Call our leaders in Albany today: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at (718) 654-6539, and senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins at (914) 423-4031. Ask them to bring this legislation to a vote.

Judith Esterquest
Barbara Estrin

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