KINGSTON, N.Y. — Some 80 supporters of the New York Health Act gathered Monday morning outside the Ulster County Office Building, posters and other props in hand, prior to a state Legislature public hearing on the proposed single-payer plan.
The hearing, the last of four held across the state, drew a packed house in the county Legislature’s chamber.
Opponents also were on hand at the rally, including one who parked a truck in front of the building that bore a painted message stating reasons to reject the plan: billions of dollars in new taxes, jobs at risk and hospital losses.
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a sponsor of the legislation, called that message “misinformation.” In fact, the Bronx Democrat said, a hospital in his district at which 70 percent of patients are on Medicaid would become more stable.
The rally-goers cheered.
Dr. Lizette Edge, a physician and Kingston resident who attended the rally, said: “Over and over, I see the health of my patients compromised all in the name of profits.”
A sign in the crowd agreed with Edge’s take. “Human need over profit,” it read.
Others bore such messages as “Pass New York Health” and “Health care is a human right.”
The New York Health Act, already passed by the state Assembly but not yet by the Senate, would provide all New Yorkers with complete health care coverage without deductibles, co-payments or networks. It would pay for doctor visits, medications, specialists, hospitalization, mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as dental, vision and hearing care.
Long-term health care and in-home nursing recently were added to the legislation.
The legislation says the cost would be covered by a new graduated income tax, plus federal funding through Medicare and Medicaid. Employers would foot 80 percent of the tax, and employees would pay the other 20.
Opposition to such a plan has been staunch in recent years in the Republican-controlled state Senate. But with Democrats now in control of both chambers, as well as the governor’s office, the tide might be turning.
Jessica Robie, a registered nurse who lives in Kingston, said she attended Monday’s rally to support the bill. “I can’t make recommendations or suggestions to patients because of the demands of their health insurance,” she said.
Wendell Potter, a former former health insurance communications executive, told the crowd he left the industry because he became too “perturbed” by his job.
“Employers were being sold a bill of goods,” he said.
Richard Wells, president of the Police Conference of New York, said the rally that the union has reservations about the bill.
“Our members have negotiated for health care,” Wells said at the hearing that followed the rally. “Sometimes they take a package with lower wages for better health care.” He said many of the union’s members pay less than 20 percent toward the cost of their health insurance.
Wells conceded the New York Health Act would include all of his members’ current medical benefits and more, but he said unforeseen possible problems make the union want to keep the status quo.
“It’s the fear of the unknown,” he said.
That fear seems to drive much of the opposition.
Mark Zezza, director of policy and research for the New York State Health Foundation, a nonprofit in New York City, cited two specific concerns:
• The federal government might not issue waivers for Medicare and Medicaid. Funding the plan depends on federal money, and the Trump administration has expressed a disinclination to give waivers. Rivera, though, says the plan can succeed without the waivers.
• The wealthiest New Yorkers might move out of the state, eroding the tax base for the plan. Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, a sponsor of the legislation, said there is no evidence that would happen. “It’s a myth,” he said. “We’ve raised New York state taxes before.”
Rivera said there was a misconception about how much each individual’s taxes would go up.
“It will not be prohibitive. It’s not that big,” he said, adding that the result will be lower health care costs.
Some 40 people signed up to speak at Monday’s hearing. One of them, Lynn Esteban of Poughkeepsie, said she suffers from an autoimmune disease called myalgic encephalomyelitis, commonly called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
“I went from healthy to completely disabled virtually overnight,” Estaban said.
She said she just learned that a change in her husband’s health insurance, which covers her, will leave her without an in-network specialist to treat her condition.
“Please vote to remove these barriers,” she said to state lawmakers, “so that I, and others like me, can have access to the tests, doctors, and treatments that allow us to live our fullest lives.”