On the N.Y. Health Care Act

The riddle of how to address rising health care costs and gaps in coverage is an urgent topic that state and federal government officials struggle with as much as the families they serve. 

The New York Health Act, a state health care bill advancing the idea of a single-payer system — sometimes called Medicare for all — has gained a lot of traction and generated a lot of debate. Would such a universal health care bill deliver all the benefits that advocates say it could? Or are critics right to argue that the cons and unknowns are being downplayed too much?

Those are some of issues likely to be examined on Saturday at a 90-minute panel discussion called “What Is the New York Health Act?” at Chancellors Hall on the campus of Stony Brook Southampton. The doors open at 1 p.m., and the forum begins at 1:30. Audience members will be invited to speak as well. A reception will follow the discussion.

The scheduled panelists include Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Martha Livingston, a professor at the State University at Old Westbury and chairwoman of the school’s public health department, Michael Hynes, superintendent of Patchogue-Medford School District, and Jackie Romero, a nurses union representative. The event is being sponsored by Progressive East End Reformers, or PEER, and a host of local organizations, churches, and social agencies.

Cheryl Cashin, a health economist and PEER member, will moderate the discussion. Ms. Cashin is an expert at designing and implementing health system financing. She is also managing director at the Results for Development Institute, a nonprofit that works to advance universal health care initiatives around the world, with an emphasis on making such programs self-sustaining.

The question of who can, should, and would pay if the New York Health Act is passed is among the biggest issues driving the debate. 

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has indicated that he is inclined to see what the federal government does regarding the Affordable Care Act, which he supports keeping, before moving ahead in New York.

Mr. Thiele disagrees. He co-sponsored and voted for the New York Health Act last summer when it came before the State Assembly, and he said via email on Monday that he continues to back the measure.

“We cannot allow New Yorkers to face the life-or-death consequences of skyrocketing premiums and insufficient health coverage,” Mr. Thiele said in a statement explaining his vote. “If we truly believe that access to health care is a human right, then a single-payer system is the best way forward.”

“Even for New Yorkers with insurance coverage, an illness or hospitalization can lead to nearly insurmountable personal debt and, in some cases, bankruptcy. New York Health will ensure New Yorkers no longer have to fear being turned down because of a pre-existing condition or forgo critical medical care because of an inability to pay.”

The Health Act’s advocates want a bill that provides cradle-to-grave coverage regardless of age, wealth, income, or pre-existing conditions. A state agency called New York Health would administer the program, and there would be no co-pays, deductibles, or other charges to patients. The insurance would cover primary and preventive care, all medically necessary inpatient and outpatient care, prescriptions, vision, hearing, dental, and hospital stay costs. 

Participants would also be able to choose whichever doctor or provider they want, rather than the ones their insurance companies dictate now. Coverage would remain intact even if the insured person loses or switches jobs or needs care while out of state.

Some critics of the Health Act are skeptical that it would deliver the array of services and projected savings the bill’s proponents claim. Some argue that the program would be needlessly disruptive or a nightmare to administer. Opponents also argue that universal coverage would create added, perhaps crippling costs for business owners who currently don’t offer health care coverage for employees. They also question whether some businesses or certain professionals would thus avoid New York State.

One thing all sides do agree on is public education opportunities like Saturday’s forum are needed. And the health care system needs work.

In addition to PEER, the many co-sponsors of Saturday’s event include the East End Action Network, Calvary Baptist Church of East Hampton, Christ Episcopal Church of Sag Harbor, Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, Southampton Democrats, and the Southampton Progressive Caucus.