The news of the ACA repeal passing the House left many of us feeling angry, scared, and hopeless. But for New York State residents, there may be a way to figure our way out of this health-care mess. A bill supporting universal health care has been floating around Albany for the past twenty years. And right now the bill has more legislative support than ever, thanks to dedicated work by activists, as well as a realization that our federal government cares more about cutting taxes on the wealthy than it does about providing health care to all Americans.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, the bill passed the New York State Assembly, which is the lower body of the statehouse. But here's the hitch: the bill must pass the State Senate by the end of the legislative session, June 21. Otherwise, New Yorkers have to wait for the 2018 assembly to move the bill through again.
There's a lot of work still to do to make this bill a reality. We spoke to activists Stephanie Kollgaard (of the feminist community-activist group Women's Liberation) and Nichole Van Beek (of the nonprofit Campaign for New York Health) about what YOU can do, right now, to ensure health care for every citizen of New York State.
Kaitlyn Greenidge: What is the current status of this bill, which would provide health care to all New Yorkers?
Stephanie Kollgaard: The New York Health Act (S4840/A4738) has passed the New York State Assembly and has finally made it to the Health Committee within the State Senate. This bill actually passed the Assembly twice, in 2015 and 2016, but it died in the Senate.
KG: What needs to happen next for the bill to move forward?
Nichole Van Beek: Because the bill passed in the Assembly, our focus is now on where the bill is in the Senate and what is needed for it to get passed there. In the Senate, the bill is currently in the Health Committee. For it to get out of committee, it has to be allowed to come to a vote by the committee chair, in this case, Senator Kemp Hannon (R). I spoke to a legislative aide in my state senator's office who said the bill would go from the Health Committee to the Finance Committee, which is chaired by Senator Catharine Young (R), who represents a district near Buffalo and Rochester. Then the senate majority leader, Senator John Flanagan (R), would need to allow it to come to a general vote.
SK: Kemp Hannon, who represents Nassau County, has not expressed support for the bill in prior Senate sessions.
In order to pass the Senate overall, a bill needs a majority-yes vote of 32 (the Senate has 63 seats). There are 31 Republican senators; however, Democratic senator Simcha Felder, from Brooklyn, tends to vote with the Republicans, which creates a majority for the Republican Party within the Senate.
KG: What's the best thing a New York resident can do to support this bill?
SK: The best thing a citizen can do is make phone calls and send petitions to their state senators, especially if they live in Felder's district. The New York State Senate website has a full list of supporters and co-sponsors.
Another important place to make phone calls in is Marty Golden's district. Golden is a Republican senator from Brooklyn. Senior citizens' health and other issues pertaining to senior citizens are very important to him, so if enough of his constituents support this bill, he might be a Republican who could vote yes. Many senior citizens have difficulty obtaining and affording quality health care, which includes long-term care.
Contacting Kemp Hannon is also very important at this point, as voters can lobby him to allow this bill to pass through that committee. And of course thanking senators who do support this bill and are fighting for it within the senate is always a good idea to keep encouraging them.
This next idea comes from the Campaign for New York Health, which has been doing amazing work to raise awareness of this bill. What they have been doing is lobbying businesses and business owners to get behind this bill. One of the arguments against single payer or universal health care is it will "hurt businesses" because of the false assumption that in order to pay for this, taxes must become extraordinarily higher. It's important to note that single-payer health will actually reduce costs for employers and business owners.
Understanding the economics of this bill and how it positively benefits all New Yorkers from all demographics and backgrounds helps reframe this beyond just a "Democratic versus Republican" issue and can help persuade those who may be on the fence. A professor from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst conducted a study of the NYHA and concluded that switching to single-payer health care will save New Yorkers a grand total of $71 billion a year. Having solid numbers like that is a great way to persuade those who are looking at this from a purely economic perspective.
Understanding the economics of this bill and how it positively benefits all New Yorkers from all demographics and backgrounds helps reframe this beyond just a "Democratic versus Republican" issue.
LVB: It's really important to spread the word about it in any way possible, including talking with friends or community groups either in real life or on social media, because so many people don't know this option exists. Signing up for newsletters with the Campaign for New York Health (nyhcampaign.org) or following their Facebook page is a good way to get connected with news, important lectures or meetings, or advocacy training. Also, the Democratic Socialists of America has a working group focused on the New York Health Act, and they have been getting the word out through canvassing and their #HealthcareHumpday campaign. Finally, there's a resource list here.
KG: If the bill doesn't go through during this legislative session, which ends on June 21, what can we do in the next legislative session to support it?
SK: If the bill doesn't go through, then it is returned to the assembly and will be back on the legislative calendar for 2018. Doubling down on lobbying senators, especially those senators who are Republicans or caucus with Republicans but have a Democratic constituency, is a strategy to continue.
Something else very important is voting. The entire state Senate is up for election every two years, so electing a solid Democratic majority in 2018 is a long-term strategy for getting bills such as this one passed. There are also periodic special elections, which voters should be aware of, such as one for New York's 30th district (upper Manhattan) on May 23rd, 2017.
KG: If people want to organize their friends, what's the best way to do that?
SK: Talk to them to make sure they understand this bill and how single payer or universal health care will positively impact their lives. One way to help friends realize how this impacts them is to hold what's known as consciousness-raising meetings.
What that means is individuals speak within a group about their own personal experiences, in this instance with the health-care system, and then the group finds commonalities and conclusions from experiences. Speaking together like this can be very helpful, as some people don't even realize how they have been negatively impacted by something, such as how our health-care system is set up, until they speak about their experience and realize that the same experience has happened to many other people. This helps reframe experiences as political issues, not just personal problems.
Finally, sign up for the Statewide Call-in Day for New York Health on June 2nd. NYHealth Campaign plans to flood State Senate offices with calls for support of the bill, especially in districts where the Senator is not yet a co-sponsor. You can find out more about this action here.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Kaitlyn Greenidge is a contributing writer for Lenny Letter and the author of the novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman.