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State lawmaker pushes for single-payer health care system in New York

Ellen Abbott
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) is a main support of single-payer health care in New York. He says the current system doesn't work.

A downstate Democrat is trying to reinvigorate a plan to create a publicly funded, single-payer health care system in New York state. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried is getting the ball rolling with a series of legislative hearings, including the first in Syracuse.

Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, says getting rid of insurance companies and putting the state in charge of health care would save consumers $20 billion a year by eliminating insurance company overhead and the administrative costs doctors and hospitals incur while dealing with insurance companies.  

"I think we have tried sort of moderate incremental patches to an insurance-based system," Gottfried said. "And it has become crystal clear that that does not work.”

The New York Health Act would replace insurance companies with a state-run system, funded through payroll assessments and taxes on non-payroll income. At the hearing Gottfried said the time to move is now.

"Our goal in these hearings is to help organize and demonstrate broad support for the New York Health Act, so we can get it to the floor of the Assembly and get it passed in the 2015 session,” Gottfried explained.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Dr. Robert Ostrander testifies during a public hearing held in Syracuse.

Union members, health care providers, and local officials testified that the health care system is increasingly too expensive for the average family. Among them was Dr. Robert Ostrander, from Yates County, who was representing the New York State Academy of Family Physicians.

"It will make things simple," Ostrander said. "It’ll put the doctor-patient relationship in front and let us focus on health care, instead of managing all the administrative stuff we have to manage right now.”

Finger Lakes small business owner Pam Gueldner says the costs to provide insurance for her 45 employees keeps rising, and is becoming unaffordable.

“By replacing my premium cost with an assessment based on my company's payroll, I’ll be able to save money and provide insurance for my employees who will have access to the doctors they choose,” Gueldner said.

There are five more hearings across the state on the proposal. Even if the legislation passes the Assembly it could have difficulties making it through the Republican controlled state Senate.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.