New York State Lawmakers Weigh Single-Payer Health Bill – The Wall Street Journal

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, left, listens as Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, second from left, asks a question during a Tuesday hearing in Albany, N.Y. on establishing a single-payer health system. Photo: Jimmy Vielkind/The Wall Street Journal

State lawmakers heard hours of testimony for and against establishing a system of single-payer health care for New York during a Tuesday hearing in Albany as they weigh legislation on the topic.

Groups representing hospitals worried that they would receive lower reimbursement rates that would prompt closures. Insurance companies warned that people would have to wait longer for specialist care.

Mitch Katz, president of New York City Health & Hospitals, said a single-payer system would ensure health care as a human right. Public employee unions said they didn’t want to surrender health benefits won through contract talks.

The arguments were in line with the national discussion about health care, and have played out in New York for years. When Democrats took control of the state Senate this year, the prospect of enacting a single-payer bill came closer to reality. Republicans have continuously opposed the measure.

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, sponsor of the New York Health Act, which would create a single-payer plan, said it isn’t likely to be voted on in his chamber this year. The bill also isn’t a priority of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who supports the concept but has concerns about the cost.

“The most important part is to be able to have a public conversation about all the ifs, ands, and all the questions that people have,” said Mr. Rivera, a Democrat from the Bronx.

A study of the legislation released last year by the Rand Corp. found it would require $139 billion of state tax funding in 2022—156% more than the total projected tax revenue for that year. The RAND study also estimated that if the bill is enacted, overall health spending would decrease slightly by 2022 as administration costs fell under a consolidated billing structure.

The bill doesn’t have a specific funding plan. But it calls for higher capital-gains taxes and a new payroll tax, 80% of which would be borne by an employer. New Yorkers would then be able to access health care without paying insurance premiums or copays.

Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of the Community Service Society, testifies at a hearing about single-payer health care in Albany on Tuesday. Photo: Jimmy Vielkind/The Wall Street Journal

Community Service Society Vice President Elisabeth Benjamin, whose group advocates for antipoverty policies, testified in favor of the bill. She said a recent survey by her organization found a majority of New Yorkers complained that health care was currently unaffordable—even if they had insurance.

“We are not doing what we need to be doing in New York,” Ms. Benjamin said.

Opponents of the bill said more than 95% of New Yorkers have health insurance, including a third who receive coverage through Medicaid or the Essential Plan, a subsidized option for people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

They said it would be more feasible and a better investment of resources to target the estimated one million New Yorkers who now lack coverage, and questioned the cost of the plan.

Assemblyman Andrew Raia, a Republican from Suffolk County, asked pointed questions of advocates and was regularly hissed at by dozens of single-payer supporters who packed the hearing room in the Capitol complex.

“Essentially, we’re going to upend an entire health-care system. It could work, it might not work. It’s a gamble,” he said.

Write to Jimmy Vielkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com

Appeared in the May 29, 2019, print edition as ‘Single-Payer Care Gets an Airing in Albany.’