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Antonacci hears from divided district on state's universal health care proposal

Payne Horning
Sen. Bob Antonacci, middle, listens as a panel of health care industry leaders and representatives discuss the New York Health Act.

The New York State Legislature is holding a hearing in Albany today on the proposed New York Health Act, a bill that would create a single-payer health insurance system run by the state government. Syracuse-area State Sen. Bob Antonacci recently convened his own hearing in his district to gather local input on the bill.

The 16 panelists Antonacci convened represented health insurance companies and local health care providers. None of those present endorsed the New York Health Act. Instead, most cautioned against a massive overhaul of the health care industry because it would lead to higher taxes and the loss of jobs in the health insurance industry and those it supports.

Leslie Moran, senior vice president of the New York Health Plan Association that represents health insurance companies, says the focus should be on reducing state regulations and reforming how health insurance tax dollars are used.

"In reality, we do have 95 percent of people who have insurance and what we need to focus on is the 5 percent of people who are uninsured," Moran said. "Completely undoing the system we have is - we don’t feel is the answer. We should be building on what we do have, what works, fixing what doesn't work."

Several of Antonacci's constituents in attendance criticized the lack of panelists who were in favor of the New York Health Act. They argued that it would actually save people money because their dollars would no longer go to health insurance profits nor exorbitant administrative salaries.

Kristen Heath, an administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, was one of few on the panel to give an alternative opinion. Although neither Heath nor St. Joseph's took a position on the bill, she said the 95 percent insured rate in New York does not accurately reflect the number of people who have health care and can actually afford to use it.

"Unfortunately, there are far too many constituents, members, patients, human beings in our community – they may have insurance, but that insurance is not a problem-solver in and of itself," Heath said. "It doesn’t create access to care, it doesn’t create the ability to utilize care, and it doesn’t solve some of the underlying financial challenges that drive people to have to have to make choices between whether they utilize the care or not."

Kathryn Middlesworth, a resident on the north side of Syracuse, said she is foregoing insulin she needs to treat her diabetes because of the cost. In her community, she says those types of choices are common.

"We drive each other to the hospital if we have to go because who can afford an ambulance? The last time I paid for an ambulance, it was $2,000," Middlesworth said. "They say they just need to fix it a little bit - as far as I’m concerned, they’ve had long enough. They aren’t fixing it. They’re not interested in fixing it. They’re just interested in keeping money in the pockets of stakeholders, as they called them, because I think they didn’t want to say shareholders."

Antonacci said he is convinced that the current health care system in New York needs to be fixed, but he does not believe the New York Health Act is the answer.

"I think we can fix health care without necessarily a full-blown, completely different way of doing business and that’s what I’m going to be continuing to look at," Antonacci said.

But as a member of the minority in the Legislature, he acknowledges that the most he may be able to do is improve the bill as it comes before the Senate.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.