On March 2, 2022, hundreds of members from the Coverage for All Coalition traveled to the state Capitol to put pressure on leaders to pass the Coverage for All bill (S.1572A/A.880A) in this year’s budget.
This rally was the culmination of a series of events that have taken place in Harlem, Long Island, Midtown and Westchester — and comes less than a month before state lawmakers must finalize this year’s budget.
Passing the Coverage for All bill is the first step towards creating a universal health care system in New York, its supporters say. The bill would create a state-funded insurance option for New Yorkers with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and expand coverage to undocumented residents.
The Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, Murad Awawdeh, told The Legislative Gazette “In the executive budget Gov. [Kathy] Hochul announced $10 billion in funding for health care across the state of New York. Unfortunately, she left out immigrant New Yorkers and we’re here to demand a just budget that includes our communities.”
Awawdeh added, “We see Coverage for All as an immediate step the state can take to ensure that every New Yorker has access to health care and the New York Health Act is our long-term strategy and goal.”
During a recent Albany press conference, rally, and march around the Capitol, New Yorkers who are eligible for coverage under the legislation spoke about the struggles they have faced before and during the pandemic as they have been forced to live without health care.
Selene Aguilar, one of the many New Yorkers who would benefit if the Coverage for All bill gets passed, said she has been forced to suffer without health care under the state’s current system. Aguilar, who recovered from COVID-19 about a year ago but continues to face lingering symptoms such as back pain, leg pain, eye aches, and headaches, told the Gazette that she routinely delays basic care because she cannot afford it.
According to Aguilar, New York’s current system forced her to “put her entire family at risk out of necessity.” Aguilar explained that “these are the inequalities that immigrants face every day in order to put food on our tables.” It’s been a year since she contracted covid-19 and even though she continues to experience symptoms she’s still been unable to see a doctor. Aguilar knows that her health is a priority but she says “it’s a constant challenge without having access to quality affordable health insurance.”
Supporters of the bill include State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, both of whom sponsor the legislation in their respective chambers, and Assembly Member Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas. Interest groups such as the New York Health Plan Association, the New York State Business Council, and citizen activist groups like the Campaign for New York Health, also support the bill.
During the event, Assembly Member Gonzalez-Rojas said “Our community members have risked their lives every day during this pandemic to save the city and do what they can to ensure that we continue to move forward” but that they have been “excluded, left behind and suffering at the hands of an unfair health system.” She continued saying “Ultimately, we need the New York Health Act…but today we can pass Coverage for All.” Gonzalez-Rojas explained that it has passed the Health Committee in the Assembly and State Senate and that “we demand that it comes to the floor for a vote because lives are on the line.”
Gonzalez-Rojas told The Legislative Gazette that the Coverage for All bill represents the “first step” towards creating a universal health care system in New York state by “expanding eligibility for coverage to all New Yorkers regardless of their immigration status.”
According to Gonzalez-Rojas, the next step is to pass the New York Health Act.
Unlike the New York Health Act, which calls for an entirely new program to create a single-payer health care system in the state, the Coverage for All bill would simply allow undocumented immigrants with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level to obtain coverage through our current system. Advocates say that because a new program doesn’t have to be created, the Coverage for All bill would be much easier to pass in the short-term than the New York Health Act.
In addition, at a projected cost of $345 million, the state can afford to include it within the $10 billion Gov. Kathy Hochul has allocated to spend on health care in New York, advocates of the program said.
During the event, Assembly Member Zohran Kwame Mamdani, D-Queens, said “We are in New York state where we have a $12 billion surplus and the cost of recognizing the dignity of our immigrant New Yorkers is just $345 million.”
According to the Campaign for New York Health, the Coverage for All bill is part of a trifecta of legislation aimed at creating a universal health care system in New York.
By working to pass Coverage for All, the New York Health Act (A.6058/S.5474), and a package of bills aimed at ending medical debt, progressive groups in New York are doing everything they can to put pressure on lawmakers to create a health care system that guarantees coverage to all New Yorkers regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.