NY News

New York Graduation Rate Inches Up

Students at the Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, N.Y., on Aug. 29. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Students at the Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, N.Y., on Aug. 29. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

BUFFALO, N.Y.—New York’s high school graduation rate improved slightly to 76.4 percent last year, even with higher learning standards, education officials said Thursday, but Gov...

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  • 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 who was diagnosed with lung cancer and whose health insurer refused to pay for his treatment. When his cancer spread to other parts of his body, the man ended up mortgaging his house to pay for his 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 and their premiums, deductibles, and co-pays—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.

For Medicaid, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), and other federally subsidized health care programs, the state will seek waivers to deposit the federal money in a state trust fund, so that those programs can eventually be folded into New York Health. Local shares of Medicaid would also be replaced by New York Health.

Furthermore, the state would negotiate directly with health care providers on the rates to charge for their services. The Assembly health committee estimates that by eliminating the costs incurred from paying insurance companies for overhead and administrative work, 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, the New York State Nurses Association, and a slew of health care professional organizations voiced their support for 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, in addition to filing piles of paperwork with different insurers to get reimbursed for their services. 

The current health care system also limits the patient’s ability to choose who provides medical care to them, as insurers restrict coverage to only in-network health care providers.

Corey Johnson, a city council member who is chair of the city’s health committee, testified in support of the bill, expressing that eliminating the insurer “middlemen” will make it easier for people to navigate the health care system. 

“Health care is a civil and human right. 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. 

The Opposition

But not everyone supported the bill’s proposal. Craig Hasday, who is the legislative chair of the New York State Association of Health Underwriters, a trade association for health insurance brokers, said the bill doesn’t address the rising costs of health care, which insurers must pay for at increasing rates. He said people’s poor lifestyle choices have caused them to develop health conditions that are expensive to treat.

He also 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. It is an argument often cited by critics of the government-run health care model, known as single-payer health care. Patients in other countries with such a model, such as in Canada, have to wait for much longer periods to receive medical help when they get sick.

Lance Austein, president of the Medical Society of the County of Kings and a primary care doctor, believes that by letting the government be the sole negotiator of health care rates, it will drive down competition and thus stifle medical innovations.

Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried, on the panel of a public health hearing regarding the New York Health bill in New York  on Dec. 16, 2014. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

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