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The Big Apple Takes on Universal Healthcare

In early January 2019, New York City announced the launch of a $100 million program designed to offer health insurance to 600,000 residents. Coverage would be available to those who were unable to afford health insurance on the marketplace as well as illegal immigrants.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is serving his second term, has been a proponent of universal healthcare for a long time. Despite the fact that President Donald Trump has made border security a top priority, de Blasio believes that healthcare is a human right. He stated that “no one should live in fear” and that “no one should go without the healthcare they need.”

NYC Care Plan

The program, known as the NYC Care Plan, will be an extension of the current MetroPlus plan that covers hospital bills for residents with low income. NYC Care will cover doctor visits outside of hospitals, using information from health experts who say that regular doctor visits can reduce trips to the hospital. De Blasio said that there will be no tax increase to cover the cost of the new insurance program and that it will begin in the Bronx borough in 2019 before expanding throughout the city by 2021.

All services will be offered on a sliding scale for those who can afford to pay, while those who can’t afford to pay will receive care for free. All care must be received inside New York City as care from a healthcare practitioner outside the city won’t be covered.

De Blasio modeled his plan after one created in San Francisco, which used federal funding and local business taxes to encourage low-income residents to seek care at local clinics rather than emergency rooms. That plan currently covers 14,000 people and Healthy San Francisco members are half as likely to depend on care in the emergency room compared to Medicaid recipients. De Blasio decided to support the plan after public hospitals in New York City reported a $6.1 billion shortfall through 2020 due to indigent patient care.

Cost a Concern

Critics of the plan say that cost is a concern, believing that covering everyone who can’t afford health insurance will reduce funds for other services and increase government debt. Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, commented that the plan was expensive to operate and that “de Blasio will face a market that is already riddled with high costs.” However, many experts believe that state governments like those of New York and California, which has also announced a universal healthcare plan, have enough revenue to cover the additional costs necessary to expand healthcare coverage.

Undocumented Immigrants

There are approximately 600,000 New Yorkers who don’t have health insurance. According to an Immigrant Health Task Force Report, there are about 540,000 undocumented immigrants in the city. Of those, about 345,000 (nearly 64 percent) do not have health insurance. The new plan does not guarantee health insurance for all, but it does offer more subsidies that would allow those who don’t have insurance to gain coverage, effectively guaranteeing universal healthcare. Undocumented immigrants are barred from gaining coverage under MetroPlus but would be covered by the new plan.

With NYC planning to cover residents who are unable to afford healthcare and other cities around the country considering the same action, it appears that healthcare reform is being shifted from the federal government to local governments, a long-time goal of conservative lawmakers.

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