New York City

NYC to guarantee health care for all, even undocumented

Mayor de Blasio: $100 million cost 'will save money in the long run'

January 8, 2019 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a new health care plan that will be available to every New Yorker, regardless of ability to pay or citizenship. Photo from Flickr/NYCMayorsOffic
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The bold plan will cost the city taxpayers $100 million a year, but Mayor Bill de Blasio says “multiple times that amount” would be spent in the future without his new plan. In a surprise announcement, the mayor says the city will guarantee health care to every resident, regardless of their ability to pay or their immigration status.

The new program, called NYC Care, will cover roughly the 600,000 city residents without insurance, roughly half of whom are undocumented immigrants.

The program will save the city money down the road, the mayor said at a press conference at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx on Tuesday.

“It’s going to revolutionize the approach, because you know what people are doing now, Joe? They’re going to the emergency room,” de Blasio told Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program. “That is the default health care provider for so many people in this country. It is the worst way to get health care. It’s the most expensive way to get health care.”

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The program is not only moral, but it makes sense economically, de Blasio said.

“We’re already paying an exorbitant amount to provide health care the wrong way and to wait until people are really sick … and end up in that emergency room, when what we should be doing is helping them get the primary care.”

In a release on Tuesday, de Blasio said the program, which is not health insurance, would work in two ways. The city will improve NYC’s public health insurance option, MetroPlus, and also guarantee that anyone ineligible for insurance has direct access to NYC Health + Hospitals’ physicians, pharmacies and mental health and substance abuse services. All services will be available on a sliding scale and will be free to those who can’t afford to pay.

Residents will be able to use city-sponsored call lines to make appointments with general practitioners, cardiologists, pediatricians, gynecologists and a full spectrum of health care services, the mayor said.

“This plan will literally say, ‘Here’s a primary care doctor, here’s a person you can see is now going to be your doctor on a regular basis, and if you need something else, especially service, here’s how you get it,’” de Blasio told Scarborough.

De Blasio said no new taxes would go to fund the program. “This is something we’re going to pay for through our public health care system because we’re making it a priority,” he said.

In recent years, New York state has pushed to restructure health care so as to emphasize primary care services to reduce dependence on emergency care. A study carried out by the state in 2013 found that the majority of ER visits were for conditions that could have been treated or prevented through access to “high quality primary care settings.”

“Many Brooklynites live day-to-day without access to health coverage because they cannot afford the costs or are too afraid to navigate the health care system’s complex bureaucracy,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a statement. “As such, Mayor de Blasio’s proposal guaranteeing health care coverage for all New Yorkers is a watershed moment. As this plan moves forward, my administration looks forward to answers on questions such as the details of the plan’s financing, the impact on existing health care programs, and the quality of care that will be offered within the public option. “

“While many of the details of this plan still need to be expanded upon, and much relies on the implementation strategy of that plan, I am excited by the concept of using the tools we have to expand healthcare to the 600,000 New Yorkers currently left behind,” Councilmember Jumaane Williams said in a statement.

NYC Care will launch in summer 2019 in the Bronx and then roll out across the city, becoming available to all five boroughs by 2021.

De Blasio emphasized that health care “is a right, not a privilege,” drawing the line between the city and the Trump administration, which has been working to dismantle Obamacare.

A long list of officials backed the plan. Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said in a statement that NYC Care will be “the biggest and most comprehensive health coverage program in the country.”

Expanding enrollment in MetroPlus and providing affordable care through NYC Care regardless of insurance means that more New Yorkers will get the comprehensive services that they need,” Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill) said in a statement.

The city’s thousands of taxi drivers also came out in favor of  the program.

Most of New York City’s professional drivers already rely on Health and Hospitals clinics and hospitals for primary care and emergency services.  This initiative can fill voids that still exist in access to care and will be a lifeline for New Yorkers who, like many of our members, don’t qualify for Medicaid but still can’t afford premiums,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of 21,000-member New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents yellow, green, App, livery and black car drivers.

But not everyone applauded the program. On Tuesday, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis (R-Bay Ridge, Staten Island), criticized de Blasio for devoting taxpayer money to the health care of undocumented immigrants.

“As property taxes continue to rise at an unprecedented and unsustainable speed, impacting homeowners and renters alike, Mayor de Blasio continues to look for ways to spend their hard earned money by placing a heavier burden on the hardworking taxpayers of this city,” she said in a statement.

She added, “Our citizens have a hard enough time covering their own healthcare costs, and now Mayor de Blasio also wants them to pay for the healthcare of 300,000 citizens of other countries. The mayor must stop abusing the middle class and treating us like his personal ATM.”


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