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.