By Kyle Hughes
The Oneida (N.Y.) Daily Dispatch, Jan. 28, 2014
ALBANY, N.Y. — A group of 70 medical school students held their first-ever Capitol lobbying day Tuesday, calling for universal health care, medical marijuana and reining in insurers that now account for a third of the cost of healthcare here.
One of the organizers of Medical Student Advocacy Day, Albany Medical College student Ajay Major, said he was inspired by the problems he said first-hand among backstretch workers at Saratoga Race Course.
“When I was in college I volunteered as a public health worker and an interpreter at the race track up in Saratoga,” Major said. “These workers, most of whom were shipped up with the horses, (who are) from Central America, live in small concrete cubes with minimal pay, long hours and a dangerous job. They have no formal healthcare in this country for their acute or their chronic conditions.”
“Local physicians, public health workers and social workers created a two bed clinic run out of an old double-wide trailer,” the Indiana resident added. “The clinic, supported by donations from local hospitals, was entirely free of charge to its patients. The clinic provided the entire spectrum of care … I’m here today because I was inspired by my colleagues at the race track who understood that it was their duty as healers to provide for their patients.”
He said those kinds of selfless acts of providing healthcare is viewed as extraordinary when it should be the norm.
“Not only is the U.S. the only developed country without universal healthcare, we’re also paying twice as much per capita on healthcare as other industrialized nations,” said student Xin Guan, who came to study at Albany Med from California. “Does this mean we provide better care? No, in fact we are falling behind in all measures of morbidity and mortality.”
She said medical bills are the reason behind 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies, and noted that even with Obamacare, about 30 million people in the U.S. will lack health insurance. “Thirty-one percent of every healthcare dollar goes into private insurance bureaucracy,” she said.
Another student, Phyllis Ying of Seattle, said when she volunteered at farmers markets, doctors organized to bring healthy food to poor residents of Albany’s South End. “For our patients, being their advocate is essential,” she said. “As one of the South End parents said to me, ‘we need this.’ “
The bills the group lobbied in favor of Tuesday included:
• A4440/S2397: Prohibits participation in torture and improper treatment of prisoners by health care professionals, a measure that has been introduced in part as a response to post 9/11 actions by the U.S. government. The bill memo says “There is very strong evidence that U.S. health professionals have been directly engaged in or complicit in torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees. The situation does not appear to be that of a few errant individuals, but a more systemic problem, facilitated by official policy.”
• A5389/S2078: Establishes the New York Health program, a comprehensive system of access to health insurance for New York state residents. The bill “would create a universal single payer health plan — New York Health — to provide comprehensive health coverage for all New Yorkers.” It would replace private insurance and be financed by a combination of state funds and payroll taxes. “Every New York resident would be eligible to enroll, regardless of age, income, wealth, employment, or other status. There would be no premium, deductibles, or co-pays. Coverage would be publicly funded.”
• A2889/S2717: Directs the commissioner of health to promulgate rules and regulations for the labeling of prescription drugs in languages other than English.
• A7648/S4283: Requires gluten contamination safeguards in food establishments owned, operated or leased by any department or agency of the state or SUNY. The bill mandates cross contamination safeguards to provide food safety for those with allergies or celiac disease.
• S1682: Provides for medical use of marijuana. The bill sets up a legal medical marijuana system for certified patients.
Kyle Hughes writes for NYSNYS News, a news service about government and politics based in the New York State Capitol, Albany.