Why we need universal healthcare in New York (Commentary)
December 10, 2014
By Ellie Donnally
As someone who worked for 42 years in healthcare, I never thought I would have been facing a health emergency myself. After I retired, my husband and I moved to the area eight years ago. We wanted to be closer to our children and enjoyed the high quality of life here in Central New York.
Unfortunately, he passed away five years ago. I was devastated emotionally, of course, but I didn’t expect to be devastated financially, too.
Once he died, our household income went down significantly. Because of my social security and small pension from my union, 1199, my monthly income of $1,800 was too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to be able to afford health insurance that would cover my regular health needs and pre-existing conditions, including regular checkups for diabetes.
Three years ago, a year and a half after my husband died, I suffered a heart attack. I got good care at a local hospital. Two weeks later, I got the bill – and almost had another heart attack right then and there.
The bill was for $43,000. I had no way to pay it back. I have arranged a payment plan with the hospital, but it’s been three years and I am still paying it off. In fact, I am trying to fight off a lien against my house and I am behind on my property taxes.
I am a person who worked hard her whole life. My husband and I bought our house in East Syracuse with cash! But now, I was alone and facing a huge debt because of a lack of health insurance.
Ten months after my heart attack, two things happened in my life: I turned 65 years old and I needed triple by-pass surgery. But the big difference between this surgery and my earlier surgery for my heart attack is that I was covered by the universal healthcare system that covers everyone over 65 — Medicare. This time, the insurance picked up most of my hospitalization costs. I was able to pay off the rest without having to worry about losing my house.
So why should someone who is 65 have the security of knowing that a major health emergency won’t bankrupt them? Why should someone under 65 be forced to contend with private insurance that often has a high deductible – the amount you pay before insurance kicks in – or high premiums and co-payments (or both).
By implementing a truly universal healthcare program – like Medicare, but for everyone – we can save New York families and employers $20 billion a year – and make sure everyone gets coverage. Health insurance companies – inefficient, unnecessary middlemen – eat up to 20 to 30% of every dollar spent on health care because of overhead, profits and the paperwork they force hospitals and doctors to contend with.
While the Affordable Care Act has done a lot of good – helping almost a million New Yorkers get coverage through private insurance or Medicaid – New York families are still at the whim of insurance companies. Here in Syracuse, Excellus raised its premiums for people who bought their insurance through the health care exchange 9.2% this year. And the average family pays thousands more in deductibles and co-payments and out-of-network fees.
A bill in Albany – the “New York Health” Act – would implement a truly universal health care program here in New York. You would have access to all the same doctors, and instead of paying premiums, deductibles and out-of-network fees, there would be an assessment based on your ability to pay. The average New Yorker would save money.
Plus, our local governments would no longer have to pay for their share of Medicaid or much of their local employees’ health care costs. This would help lower property taxes.
The only thing standing between us and this type of program is the insurance industry. Not surprisingly, they like things just the way they are. But that doesn’t mean we should.