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WEEKDAY MAGAZINE – Healthcare In America (An Ongoing Series)

NY State Senate

This is part of an ongoing series that gives Bronx writers a chance to share their personal stories on the state of healthcare in America.

by Judith B. Esterquest and Barbara L. Estrin

January 14, 2019

A David and Goliath Battle: Strategies for Winning the New York Health Plan

November’s NY State Senate contest was a rout— the Democrats slam-dunked the Republicans, creating a completely transformed playing field in Albany. Team Dems, with 40 psyched for the opening bell on January 9th, are one vote shy of a super-majority, dominance they’ve long held in the Assembly, completing their statewide trifecta (with Cuomo). Team Dem has 15 newbies in the line-up joining 25 incumbents. The 23-member Team GOP has only 2 newbies in their line-up and have lost serious star power such as Jeff Klein, Kemp Hannon, Golden, and others.

Did NYC play to win? We crushed it! Seven of the Dem rookies hail from NYC, joining another 4 from Long Island. If you worried about the IDC last spring, that wicked-witch troupe of monkeys is history, only one of their member not having fallen in September, overcome by six exciting new players — wearing deeply progressive blue shirts — who took their battle cry for health justice and social justice to victory in November. Let’s put in neon how historic this is: Team Dems have controlled the NY Senate only 3 years since World War II. 

Can they learn to play like winners? They’ve had 60 years practicing sitting on the senate backbench and honing insults — rarely invited into the back room where legislation is written. The new senate playing field — 40 Dems and 23 GOP — has team captain Andrea Stewart-Cousins (Yonkers and Westchester, S-35) chomping at the bit. 

Her challenge: teach her team to govern — and manage expectations around budget and legislation. There are so many critical balls in play — from aligning NYS law with Roe v Wade, to gun safety, to reforming voting, campaign finance, and ethics — not to mention NY Health — and every blue jersey wants time in the sun and the right to run plays they promised. 

Health Team Captain Dick Gottfried (Manhatan A-75) has worn a burnished gold C for 31 of his 40 years in the Assembly, having shepherded NY Health to 5 victories (and counting!). Gottfried captained the very first version of NY Health in 1992. He credits NY Nurses with coaching him in the 1990’s on how to Rumble in the Jungle about single-payer and the need for universal, comprehensive healthcare. Gottfried recently commented:

Despite Washington’s efforts to undermine access to affordable care, we recognize that New Yorkers, and all Americans, deserve a healthcare system that guarantees coverage for all . . . an “improved Medicare for all” single-payer system that covers all of us and is funded fairly …
It was clear [in November] … that healthcare was the number one issue on voters’ minds. A solid majority of the new state Senate has either been a cosigner, voted for it in the Assembly, or campaigned on NY Health. So I think we’re on track to get it passed in the NY Assembly and NY Senate. 

Health Team Captain Gustavo Rivera (Bronx S-33) is wearing a long-coveted C on his chest in his first year as Senate Health Committee Chair. Rivera recently commented: “One of the most significant takeaways of November’s Democratic electoral sweep is that New Yorkers, including Bronx residents, strongly favor a more accessible, equitable, and affordable healthcare system. The New York Health Act is currently the only proposal that achieves that goal — to provide all New York residents access to comprehensive healthcare coverage regardless of their wealth or immigration status.” 

Under the New York Health Act, people who were previously unable to access care would be able to receive it without having to rely on emergency services.

Real Nurses, the A-Team players in caring and giving care, don’t just cheer for NY Health from the sidelines. For them teamwork is about life and death. They seek nothing less than getting healthcare reformed to prioritize patients over profits.

As Marva Wade of the NYS Nurses Association recently observed:
“Prior to Medicare becoming law in 1965, the insurance industry asserted that the new health care system for seniors would bankrupt America. But seniors were going broke trying to pay for care, the very reason Medicare was enacted. … and now Medicare is our most popular government program, keeping administrative costs below 3 percent while providing high quality coverage for the oldest and sickest people in our population.
Today, an industry whose business model is to reap billions in profits by limiting access to care is pushing hard to stop an extension of Medicare to all Americans [and spreading] misinformation about the issue.
As a registered nurse in New York, I have one message for you: Don’t be fooled.”

So will 2019 bring home NY Health (“Improved Medicare for All New Yorkers”)? Our Health Captains and A-Teams have their work cut out for them, with their legislative colleagues, and our Governor. The big guy is on record for saying healthcare is a human right, enshrined in our Constitution, and that single-payer is “interesting.” To those who find this less enthusiastic than they like, Captain Gottfried says, “Our guy is ahead of 49 other guys around the country!” Gottfried also opines that our guy loves winning issues that have mobilized fans; Gottfried and teams have a strategy to make that happen.

What’s the game plan? Most important, both Health Captains emphasize the need for voters — those of us in the grandstands watching the game and rooting for the bill to get past the goal posts, over home plate, and across the finish line — to continue building grassroots momentum — to keep up the high-volume of calls, letters, and conversations. Enthusiastic support will drive passage of the bill in the Assembly (for the 4th year in a row!), and then in the Senate (where it will finally make it out of committee for a vote) and, then, finally, get it to the Governor’s desk — when the weather is warm enough for him to hear the crowds roaring: Sign! Sign! Sign NOW!

So 2019 will be the first chance NY Health has ever had to get a vote in both chambers — and to make it onto the green of the governor’s desk. 

The Opposition? Yes, there are spoilers, already streaming out of the shadows, readying for the kill by pouring carloads of cash over the field — and across the media landscape — to muddy the waters of what we’re cheering for. Who are they? Big Pharma and Big Insurance and dark money oligarchs who feel entitled to decades of outsized profits at the expense of our health and our lives.

Our work, however, has the Opposition changing leagues. Until now, they’ve been spending over $660,000,000,000 (that’s BILLIONS) per year on 3,300 lobbyists for our 535 Members of Congress (6 lobbyists each!) and $1.6 million per day. That’s just what they admit to. Dark Money is beginning to slosh around our state, as oligarchs and moneymen gather truckloads of cash for digital and prime-time commercials — and a propaganda war with misleading (usually paid) “news” articles and phony “research studies.”

The Next Quarter? Stay tuned to our Healthcare in America Series published by This Is the Bronx. Coming soon is a sampling of the myths and “alternative facts” that will be broadcast at increasingly high volume. Until then, listen to Real Nurse Marva Wade: “Every other country has figured out how to cover their residents, spend half what we do, and have much better health outcomes.

Now is the time to give the voters the health care they desperately need. Don’t let the profiteers stop New York from leading the way to truly universal, guaranteed health care. Get involved, speak out, and pay attention like your life depends on it. Because it does.”

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Having seen first hand the devastation and excessive costs caused by our current broken healthcare system, Judith B. Esterquest and Barbara L. Estrin are activists working for the NYHA.

Submit original writing for publication in WEEKDAY MAGAZINE, click here.  Fiction, non-fiction, commentary, news, news analysis, and poetry are welcome.  Bronx slant always preferred.

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