NEW YORK—One after another, local doctors described how their patients stopped seeing them after insurance companies refused to cover treatment costs, leaving the patients who couldn’t afford the exorbitant bills with no choice but to let their illnesses get worse.
Oliver Fein, an associate dean at Weill Cornell Medical College and a practicing physician, told of his 60-year-old patient diagnosed with lung cancer whose health insurer refused to pay for treatment. When his cancer got worse, the man had to mortgage his house to pay for chemotherapy.
Fein and other doctors were testifying at a public hearing on a New York State Assembly bill Monday, held at a New York University campus building in downtown Manhattan. If passed, the legislation would establish a universal healthcare system in the state, administered by the state government.
The program, called New York Health, would replace insurance companies—instead offering all state residents an insurance plan that includes primary, preventive, and emergency health care, as well as other health care needs like prescription drugs and medical devices, according to the bill’s main sponsor, assembly member Richard Gottfried.
Private insurers who offer the same benefits will be banned from operating in the state.
The program would be paid for through a progressive payroll tax based on one’s income. Employers pay 80 percent of the tax, while employees pay 20 percent. Self-employed individuals pay the entire tax amount.
The state will seek waivers from federally subsidized health care programs then deposit the federal money in a state trust fund, and eventually fold it into New York Health.
The Assembly health committee estimates that by eliminating the costs incurred from paying insurance companies, the New York Health program will save the state $20 billion a year.
New Yorkers Show Support
At Monday’s hearing, representatives from the 1199 SEIU health care workers union and a number of health care professional organizations supported the bill, citing benefits for their patients and for themselves as health care providers.
Doctors, social workers, and psychiatrists testified that they spend hours dealing with insurers who constantly change their rules on patients’ coverage eligibility.
Corey Johnson, a city council member who is chair of the city’s health committee, testified in support of the bill.
“We have to ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their health status, their ability to pay, their zip code, their national origin, that they have the ability to see the doctors that they choose,” said Johnson.
But not everyone supported the bill’s proposal. Craig Hasday, who is the legislative chair of the New York State Association of Health Underwriters, said the bill doesn’t address the rising costs of health care, which insurers must pay for at increasing rates.
He said a government-run health care system encompassing the entire state is likely to come across problems with funding and how to provide prompt, efficient care.
Monday’s hearing was the fourth in a series of six hearings on the bill, being held throughout the state. The next one takes place in Mineola, Long Island.
Senator Bill Perkins has introduced a companion bill in the State Senate.