By Henry Davis
Buffalo News, Dec. 11, 2014
One patient went overseas for an operation to avoid paying high out-of-pocket costs here.
A single mother in a low-paying job worried that private health insurance will leave her financially strapped.
And a doctor described how the 18 health care providers where he practices need almost as many employees just to keep track of insurance paperwork.
Those stories highlighted a hearing this week on creating single-payer health care in the state that advocates contend would solve those problems.
“The current system is not working, and we should not take a failure and make it a bigger failure,” said Dr. Jason M. Matuszak, a family physician who specializes in sports medicine at Excelsior Orthopaedics in Amherst.
Matuszak was one of about two dozen people who voiced support for New York Health, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, during a hearing in Hohn Auditorium at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. He’s conducting six hearings statewide, with plans to move the bill out of the Assembly’s Health Committee, of which he is chairman, and introduce it into the Assembly for a vote in the spring.
“Even people with coverage are finding obstacles to care and costs devastating to their finances,” Gottfried said.
The bill, to no one’s surprise, is receiving intense criticism.
The Business Council of New York State, which lobbies for private employers, has long been on record of opposing the proposal, calling its promise of universal, unlimited coverage “a mirage.”
Gottfried is no stranger to trying get approved single-payer health care. The plan was originally introduced 23 years ago and passed the Assembly. It has not been brought to the Legislature for a vote since then.
New York Health would fold in Medicare and other current government programs, and replace much of what the Affordable Care Act created. Funding would come from a payroll tax and a surcharge on higher income. Proponents offered examples of why single-payer is the better path to take.
Matuszak cited a 27-year-old woman who teaches overseas and who suffered torn knee cartilage. Rather than pay high out-of-pocket costs here, she had her surgery in Spain, which operates a single-payer health system.
“She did this despite top surgeons being here and the language barriers of getting care there,” he said. “She shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
Single-payer health care is not socialized medicine, in which doctors and hospitals work for the government. Instead, the government becomes the primary payer of care, similar to Medicare, the federal health plan for those 65 and older.
To proponents of single-payer, the Affordable Care Act maintains an inefficient and complicated health system.
The United States spends almost twice as much as other developed nations on health care. But many of the key measurable results are, at best, the same, and problems persist with patient safety and poor access.
Administrative costs consume a large share of health spending and create bureaucratic hassles. The existence of multiple private insurers requires hospitals and doctors to administer many different contracts with different coverage and policies.
Matuszak noted that Excelsior needs 13 employees to handle the billing for its 18 health care providers.
“It compromises care,” he said.
Dr. Myron L. Glick, founder of the Jericho Road Community Health Center in Buffalo, described how for 20 years he has had a front-row seat to see the health system’s failure to take care of the poor and vulnerable.
He recalled a recent diabetic patient whose medication bill had reached $900 a month. She couldn’t afford it, even with existing programs for help.
“Access to health care is a basic human right,” he said.
Glick also criticized the amount of red tape, saying his practice deals with more than 100 insurance contracts for the 15 percent of his patients with private coverage.
Tasha Moore, a community health worker at the Matt Urban Hope Center, talked about how she will soon lose coverage through Medicaid, the health plan for the poor. Her private insurance will cost $120 a month, a price that’s financially overwhelming on her $12-an-hour salary. “It doesn’t help me. I can’t afford it,” she said.
The Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce, issued a statement saying that the bill fails to consider the high costs associated with the proposed assessments for funding, or the positive economic impact that health plans have by providing tens of thousands of jobs, and paying property and payroll taxes.