September 18, 2007

Workers' Center Petitions Spitzer For Universal Health Care

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In its continuing fight for universal health care in New York State, the Tompkins County Workers’ Center delivered 2,207 petitions to Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) Thursday, Sept. 5 demanding health care for all New York residents. The petitions were delivered in Glen Falls, N.Y. at the first of five statewide health care hearings on the issue.
The petitions specifically ask for a single-payer health care system throughout the state of New York. A single-payer system is one in which hospitals and health care providers are paid by a single payer — in this case the New York State government.
According to the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, there are currently 3 million people without insurance in New York.
The petitions ask that Spitzer, state senators and assembly people reform the health care system so that it “creates a publicly-financed system for all New Yorkers; guarantees choice of doctors and providers; guarantees health care for everyone independent of employment; is paid for by fair taxes based on ability to pay.”
The Tompkins County Workers’ Center ultimately hopes to present Spitzer with 10,000 petitions.
“We wanted to get the first batch in,” said Pete Meyers, director of the Workers’ Center. “I don’t remember anyone saying no to signing the petition.”
Prior to the hearing in Glen Falls, the Tompkins County Workers Center, in conjunction with the Tompkins County Health Care Task Force, hosted a rally in support of universal health care. Approximately 200 people from Ithaca and surrounding communities attended.
At the hearing in Glen Falls, a 12-person panel consisting of state representatives and insurance companies asked questions, answered questions and served as an audience to 35 testimonies presented by people advocating a single-payer system. Although he was initially scheduled to be at the panel, Spitzer was not present.
The testimonies consisted of small business owners who could not provide adequate health care to their employees, people without health care, people in the health care industry and advocates of health care. Any resident was allowed to submit a 10-minute testimony.
“I felt that Gov. Spitzer had been willing to take on some tough opponents in the past and was able to put up a good fight,” said Rebecca Elgie, a member of the steering committee of the Tompkins County Health Care Task Force.
“We will challenge this task force to take this up as a plan for the state,” she said.
According to Elgie, who testified before the panel, the audience was very receptive of introducing not-for-profit health care and the panel of representatives was especially receptive of personal anecdotes of those who suffered because they did not have the resources necessary for medical attention.
In addition to the personal testimonies, Dr. Richard C. Wender, president of the American Cancer Society, spoke as an advocate on behalf of universal health care. Wender noted that although there are several effective drugs to treat cancer, many people do not have the coverage to be treated with them.
A single-payer health care system might allow these patients to receive coverage. There are some concerns, however, that universal health care would cause uninsured people from around the country to migrate to New York and that those who already have insurance would not receive the same quality of care that they receive now.
“Put young, old, sick and well in the same pool and it can all balance out. We are urging New York to be a model for the country,” Elgie said.
The next hearing will take place in Syracuse on Nov. 13, followed by hearings in Rochester, Buffalo and Long Island. Any resident can submit testimony.
According to Elgie, a New York single-payer system would ensure that all residents receive coverage but would not necessarily immediately apply to out-of-state students at universities in New York.
Some students expressed a desire to adopt a universal health care policy.
“I believe that everyone should have health care but I feel that the program should be very well thought out so that everyone doesn’t spend a lot of time waiting in doctor’s offices,” said Jamie Feigenbaum ’09. “If I don’t have health I get screwed. I’m very reliant on doctors.”
“Every citizen should have access to health care services regardless of their financial situation,” said Rahul Shah ’08.