Medicare for All gains majority of Dems in NY legislature
New York Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan speaking at a single-payer rally in Albany. He and State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx, crafted this year’s New York Health Act. Gottfried first unveiled it in 1992, but it got out of his committee only this year. Photo compliments of Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.

ALBANY, N.Y.—With a push from the New York State Nurses Association, Medicare For All—at least on the state level—gained majority co-sponsorship among the New York legislature’s ruling Democrats, a top progressive sponsor reports.

“It would make New York single-payer, everybody in, nobody out” of health care coverage, State Sen. Jabari Brisport, D-Brooklyn, told Our Revolution members in a June 7 conference call. And that includes covering undocumented people, he added.

“There was a big mobilization rally today,” for the New York Health Act, featuring a “die-in,” because “people are dying for lack of health care,” Brisport declared.

But there are two legislative catches to this rosy scenario, he warned. One is the legislature’s session ends on June 10. The other is “legislative leaders are not bringing it to a vote,” he said of the measure, AB6058, and its companion, SB5474.

Reasons: “General inertia to do anything transformational,” and, Brisport said, co-sponsors who signed on to the bill just for show to please progressive constituents. But, catering to corporate caterwauling and campaign contributions, those solons “are now covering their butts by telling legislative leaders they don’t want to vote on it.”

And since the legislation would abolish the entire insurance industry, its denial of care, high co-pays, and huge premiums, it’s drawn vitriolic opposition from the corporate class. One recent op-ed in the Albany Business Journal showed they’re scared. It screamed about the biggest tax hike in U.S. history, ignoring the current higher costs of the health care non-system.

Brisport also said, “a handful of New York public-sector unions” oppose health care for all because their members “are happy with what they have.” He didn’t identify them.

If this scenario sounds familiar to NYSNA’s parent union, National Nurses United, not to mention other unions and other backers of government-run single-payer health care around the country, it should because that’s what happened so far to HR1384, the national single-payer bill, in the last Congress. It also happened in California in April.

The legislation, both in New York and nationally, is important to workers. It’s so important that NYSNA members and other single-payer advocates staged the “die-in,” lying down on the streets, on June 7. The action was followed by a mass blitz of calls by the Campaign For New York Health, the coalition NYNSA organized.

If the Albany push succeeds, it will move ahead of that in California, where NYSNA’s parent union, National Nurses United, launched the first statewide campaign for government-run single-payer health care.

There, Health Care Los Angeles reported on April 22 that the Democratic-run State Assembly tabled its single-payer bill, AB1400, again, and killing it for the year, “due to a grossly inadequate understanding of the bill text.

“Delaying this bill leaves thousands of Californians to struggle with medical debt, bankruptcy, impoverishment, unnecessary suffering, disability, and preventable death.

“This delay disproportionately hurts disadvantaged underserved communities and the working poor. AB1400 is a fiscally responsible single-payer bill” that will save the state and Californians billions of dollars, Health Care Los Angeles declared.

Single-payer would also save workers nationally billions of dollars in high insurer co-pays and premiums and denial of care. And by taking health care off the bargaining table, it would let workers demand—and employers pay—higher wages, too, union backers contend.

That’s important as health care spending took up approximately one-sixth of all U.S. gross domestic product, far outstripping its share in other developed nations—and that was before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

But the system, with myriad different policies, insurers, loads of paperwork, and 20% of costs going to insurer overhead, profits, and executive pay, also produces many lousy outcomes. According to a Harvard study, pre-pandemic: 44,000 yearly deaths due to insurers’ refusing to pay for care.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., She is now the lead sponsor in the House of a bill that would make Medicare for All the law of the land everywhere in the US, not just in New York or California if it becomes law in those states. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

All this led House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., to join longtime lone voice Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., in crafting and introducing Medicare For All. He has 16 Senate co-sponsors. She has a majority of the House Democratic Caucus.

But they don’t have House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. In the last Congress, Pelosi ordered her key committee chair on health issues to hold a hearing on single-payer and other health care improvements but then bury any legislation.

The same scenario confronts New York Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx, who crafted and pushed this year’s New York Health Act. Gottfried first unveiled it in 1992, but it got out of his committee only this year.

Which led the New York campaigners to stage their telethon and the die-in, too.

“The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made history by expanding health insurance to thousands of New Yorkers for the first time. However, it left private insurance companies in charge of our healthcare system. Meanwhile, the number of uninsured is growing because people are losing their health insurance tied to their jobs, resulting in more than one million New Yorkers having no insurance whatsoever in the middle of this pandemic,” the Campaign for New York Health said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.