Medicare and Medicaid turned 54 on July 30. Yet half a century after these popular “entitlements” were created, the United States remains the only developed country without universal health care. The rest of the world admires many things about America, but our for-profit system of health insurance is not among them.
A comprehensive national plan may not be in the immediate cards. New Yorkers, however, need not wait for Congress to pass (and a president to sign) a Medicare for All bill — which may take awhile. The New York Health Act, pending in the state Legislature, would make an expanded version of Medicare available to all residents of the state. Moreover, it includes dental, vision and mental health coverage as well as long-term care — none of which are provided by Medicare. Earlier versions of the NYHA have passed the state Assembly in each of the last three sessions only to stall in the Senate. The bill coincides, in broad outline, with the national bills introduced by Bernie Sanders in the Senate and Pramila Jayapal in the House.
Arguments against such universal coverage almost always come down to its allegedly prohibitive cost (though other countries with such programs spend less per capita for better health results). A major tenet of this argument is that costs will skyrocket because insuring people will increase hospital use.
An article in the Boston Globe on July 23 by the authors of a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine refutes this claim. The authors demonstrate conclusively that while both Medicare and the Affordable Care Act insured more people, neither raised overall hospital costs significantly since increased access was offset by reductions in unnecessary hospitalizations.
The League of Women Voters of New York State endorses the NY Health Act and strongly supports a national comprehensive universal health care program. Many residents of the north country would benefit from universal health coverage — not only under-insured farmers and low-wage workers but small businesses and entrepreneurs as well along with all those who stay in unsatisfactory jobs or abusive relationships just to keep health insurance for themselves and their children.
We urge all residents of the north country to join the growing chorus of those calling for passage of legislation that will make quality health care available to everyone — the kind of health care we already afford our elected representatives in Congress.
The writer is president of the League of Women Voters of St. Lawrence County.