Universal health care depends on just one senator we all know


Just like the horror movie where the scary monster just won’t die no matter how many times you stab and electrocute it, Republican efforts to simply repeal the Affordable Care Act in the U.S. Senate somehow find a way back to the world of the living.

It is quite possible, despite opposition from the likes of Rand Paul and John McCain, the Senate may have voted at least once more on a repeal bill by the time you read these words. And whether or not they are successful, the future of health care for New Yorkers — especially those of us in Riverdale and Kingsbridge — lies not with those in the U.S. Senate, but actually the men and women who make up the state senate.

Sitting on a shelf somewhere in Albany collecting dust is something known as the New York Health Act. Introduced by Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried last spring, the bill whipped through the lower house on a 94-46 vote.

It would provide something the federal government has failed to provide, even through the Affordable Care Act — universal health care through a single-payer system.

That system would expand Medicaid to everyone, making it unnecessary to find insurance, and instead providing assurance that if any New Yorker gets sick, there is a means to get better, without having to go broke in the process.

It’s a system that works for many countries around the world, including our neighbors to the north, who swear by it. Yet, despite a governor eager to put New York at the forefront of health care innovation, not only has the New York Health Act failed to move in the state senate — it can’t even get a hearing.

But don’t blame Sen. Jeff Klein. At least that’s what he says. After all, Klein is a co-sponsor of the senate version of the bill, and has been vocal about his support for the bill. Except the words are empty. He has been completely unsuccessful in convincing the committee chair that’s gumming up the works — Sen. Kemp Hannon from Garden City — from granting the bill a hearing.

And that’s the rub. Republicans don’t support the New York Health Act, and Hannon is, after all, a Republican.

Klein is not a Republican, so what can he do? He’s only the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats who formed an alliance with Republicans, giving them the power to appoint Hannon to the chairmanship of the senate health committee in the first place.

Democrats have called on Klein and his IDC to end their partnership with the GOP, especially in the era of Donald Trump, and rejoin the Democrats. Even Simcha Felder — the senator elected as a Democrat yet also caucuses with the Republicans outside the IDC — has pushed for a reunification. And while Felder has not committed that one last much-needed final vote to make change happen in the senate, it seems unlikely he would push the IDC to move back to the Democratic column if he wasn’t willing to make the move himself.

Yet outside of some friendly conversations with Hannon, Klein has accomplished little to get the New York Health Act moving, at least to a hearing. If the IDC is supposed to have power to affect progressive change even with Republican leadership, then what better piece of legislation to prove that than with one that would provide universal health care to New Yorkers?

But it’s not happening, and it won’t happen. Not as long as Klein sits in defeat.

Many voters could care less about the inner-politics of our legislative bodies. Let them fight. But they do care about results.

And results are something Sen. Klein and the IDC need to find, and fast.

Jeffrey Klein, Independent Democratic Conference,