September 18, 2007

Dept. of Health Begins Researching Universal Health Care Options

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The New York State Department of Health has recently begun research examining the possibility of assuring every citizen of New York is covered with either private or public health insurance.
The main proponents of the plan, including Gov. Elliot Spitzer (D) and the authorities at the Partnership For Coverage, an initiative begun Spitzer, are placing a special emphasis on the full coverage of children.
The two primary ways for New Yorkers to obtain insurance, like citizens across the country, are to either work for an employer that provides health insurance as a benefit or to sign up for a federal insurance plan such as Medicaid. A third option, purchasing health insurance as an individual rather than as part of a group, is often more difficult to obtain and can be more costly. Due to the difficulties of securing private insurance, many New Yorkers live without it.
According to Claudia Hutton, director of public affairs for the State Department of Health, “2.6 million people fall in the gap somewhere in between. There are people who make too much for Medicaid, but their employer does not provide health insurance.”
The purpose of Medicaid, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, is to “make it possible for you to get the care that you need so that you can get healthy — and stay healthy.” Available to low income individuals and families, Medicaid already covers millions of people. Each state is responsible for administering its Medicaid program and setting its own guidelines regarding eligibility. The program, however, is largely funded by the federal government.
The Partnership For Coverage is conducting a series of public hearings across the state in order to gauge public opinion on the matter and is quite certain that the public sees health care as a top priority. The first of these hearings, held in Glen Falls, N.Y. included a wide variety of speakers, both those with professional experience on health care and those who were just concerned with the topic. According to Hutton, the hearings are a “valuable tool to find the pockets of need and the circumstances that people are trying to work with.”
Hutton went on to say that “2.6 million people in New York have to decide between buying food or going to the doctor. Kids need to go to the doctor, they need immunizations … They need to see a dentist and learn proper care of their teeth so when they are 25 they aren’t losing them. New York is a wealthy state, but there are areas of great need. Health care disparities arise in different cities. There are too many cases of people who work full time and can’t afford to pay premiums. Out of all the people in the world our young defenseless children need to be in a situation where their parents can take them to the doctor and they can afford it.”
The program aims to expand the number of people eligible for health care by increasing the percentage above the poverty level that people can earn and still be eligible. Currently, New York covers residents earning up to 200-250 percent above the poverty level, a number that pales in comparison to the roughly 350 percent of the poverty level that New Jersey maintains. This number provides about $40,000 for a family of four per year, but by raising the poverty level in New York, proponents of universal health care hope to get that number raised to $82,000 for a family of four per year.
Ultimately, the hearings hope to provide the means by which change in these programs can be anticipated. Proponents admit it is certainly still a work in progress.
“It can’t be just one thing. Businesses can only afford to do what they can afford to do. Is there a way to see where the government should step in? Can we get businesses working with the government to help small businesses provide health insurance options,” Hutton asked. Hutton and other officials at the State Department of Health are posing such questions in an effort to find viable alternatives and create a system in which health care can be provided for every citizen of New York.
Although some state officials aim for health care for all New Yorkers, not everyone is convinced the government is the best way to provide health insurance to all individuals.
“The solution in my opinion as a conservative isn’t going to be in expanding the role of government. Increasing the role of the private sector, incentives for employers to cover their employees and rejuvenating the economy are the best measures to ensure adequate coverage of all New Yorkers,” said Ahmed Salem ’08, president of Cornell Republicans.
“[Spitzer’s plan] doesn’t adequately outline the impact on the New York economy or jobs in the state. More failing government programs will be the problem, not the solution to our health care dilemma,” Salem said.