By Oscar A. Marcilla and Marc Lavietes
The Times Ledger (Queens, N.Y.), May 7, 2016
Queens has been severely impacted by our nation’s health care crisis. As of 2014, 332,000 people—14 percent of Queens residents—were still uninsured. Within the last decade, five hospitals (Mary Immaculate, Parkway, Peninsula, St. John’s and Victoria Memorial) have closed. With these closings, 1,054 hospital beds have been lost, as well as over 1,000 jobs. Hospital crowding is severe.
The Affordable Care Act, passed six years ago, expands access to health insurance but fails to limit rising costs or provide universal coverage. While some have benefited from the ACA, insurance companies continue to raise premiums and maintain soaring profits. The average deductible on all plans—$1,077 in 2015—discourages many from seeking care. The relentless merger of insurance company conglomerates lessens the possibility that competition will limit future cost escalations.
Our state has proposed a viable solution to this crisis. In 2015, our State Assembly passed the New York Health Act (A.5062), a bill to provide health care for every resident via a single public fund, aka a single-payer health care system. This bill has received little attention from the press and now faces an uphill battle in the state Senate (S.3525). Many doctors, nurses, social workers, small business owners and patients, however, support this.
Given the current national political climate, passage of a universal health care system is unlikely. Republicans vote to repeal the ACA almost daily. Yet there is hope. The ACA provides that a state can institute its own universal health care system in 2017 as long as it meets three criteria: it must cover at least as many people as the ACA, it cannot increase cost to the government, and it must offer the minimum benefit package stipulated by the ACA.
While guaranteeing access to health care for all residents, S.3525 provides for a single-payer payment mechanism, similar to those used successfully in other industrialized countries. S.3525 establishes a fund designed solely to facilitate the flow of money needed for health care. We all pay into it according to our ability. 98 percent of New Yorkers will save money under this plan.
Hospitals and physicians will continue to operate privately. There are no “networks” limiting your choice of providers: patients would be free to select their own physicians and hospitals.
Opponents of the plan often say “we can’t afford it.” In truth, we cannot afford not to have it. Other countries with economies comparable to ours have universal coverage, yet pay half as much per person as we pay for health care in the United States. Approximately 30% of our health care dollars are consumed by administrative costs because of our wasteful private health insurance system. We urge all Queens residents to familiarize themselves with this bill and to ask their state Senators and Assembly persons to support it.
Oscar A. Marcilla, MD, is Associate Director, Emergency Medicine, Flushing Hospital Medical Center.
Marc Lavietes, MD, is Secretary, Physicians for a National Health Program, New York – Greater Metropolitan Area Chapter.