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Thursday, 18 May 2017 04:50

Will New York Beat California in the Race to Enact a Single-Payer Health Care System?

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

singlepayer56Single-payer legislation is brewing at the state level. (Photo: Juhan Sonin)

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A single-payer health care bill passed the New York State Assembly for the fourth time on Tuesday, and is headed for the State Senate. The Senate has turned down the bill before, but according to The Village Voice, its prospects are growing more favorable this year:

Currently, the bill is only two votes shy of passing in the 63-seat state senate. It recently picked up the support of the influential Independent Democratic Conference, buoying its number of supporters to 30.

A special election on May 23 to fill an assembly seat vacated by now-council member Bill Perkins is all but guaranteed to go to real estate developer Brian Benjamin, who has vowed to support the bill, Rivera told the Voice. The only hurdles now include the conversion of just one more holdout — the most likely target is Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans — plus a small pile of procedural battles. Felder, who told the Guardian in April that he had no position on the bill, did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails from the Voice.

The Village Voice noted in response to the legislation's detractors:

As for the fear of rationed access, [economist Gerald] Friedman [the department chair of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's economics program] told the Voice that "the current system already involves rationing — New Yorkers are rationed by lack of health insurance." He says 20 percent of New Yorkers are unable to visit the doctor because of high copays and deductibles. Under the NYHA, "all of those people would have equal access."

Additionally, doctors currently squander much of their time filling out forms for the insurance industry — time that under a single-payer system would be spent seeing patients. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent each year on insurance-related expenses, Friedman said, adding that across the country, hospitals have more people employed for billing and insurance than they do beds. This stripping-away of cumbersome bureaucracy would likely drive more doctors to practice in New York, thus driving down wait times.

"All those resources that go to billing and insurance would go to patient practice," Friedman said. "If it's the same dollar, doctors would rather make that dollar dealing with patients than with insurance."

In an email sent to BuzzFlash, Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, health committee chair and the bill sponsor, commented:

The health care system is rigged against working people, and the Trump administration is working to make health care access even worse. New York can do better with an 'improved Medicare for all' single-payer system that covers all of us and is funded fairly. Support is growing with the public and in the State Senate, where we now have 30 co-sponsors including all the mainstream Democrats and Independent Democratic Conference. Assembly passage is an important step as we continue to build support for universal health care in the face of the Trump agenda.

As noted in a recent Socialist Worker article, some states are picking up the slack in efforts to create a "Medicare for all" health system. This is happening in the bellwether state of California, where -- according to the Truthout report -- "SB 562 would provide universal health care for all state residents regardless of immigration status and take private insurance companies out of the health-care equation." There are a slew of advocacy groups and individuals energetically backing the Golden State legislation.

Insurance companies are a lot like casinos: When your premiums are paid, you are betting against the house. That is because, to make a hefty profit, the insurance companies have to overcharge via high premiums or deny health care based on fine-print technicalities. Often, they do both. That is precious money that could be going directly toward patient care in a single-payer system, such as Medicare. Since its inception, BuzzFlash has been an advocate of Medicare for everyone in the United States.

As far as New York's legislation to make single-payer health care a reality in the Empire State, ThinkProgress notes, "Similar proposals passed the Assembly in previous years, but this is the first year it has a fighting chance in the state's Senate."

Granted, a federal single-payer bill would still be preferable to a number of state-based single-payer systems. However, the energy and momentum in states such as New York and California are a positive sign that progressive, practical and just health care reform may be achievable despite the ruinous American Health Care Act recently passed by the House.