Advocate for universal health coverage to speak in Albany area

March 18, 2015 | SPH in the News

Dr. David Himmelstein addresses Vermont in universal access to health care
By Claire HughesEdit Edit date and time

April 18, 2015

Vermont’s aborted attempt to launch a near-universal health system isn’t muting its supporters in New York.

“I think it makes a lot of sense to push for it at the state level,” said Dr. David Himmelstein, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. “No one can say where a breakthrough comes.”

Himmelstein, a professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health at Hunter College, will speak at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health in East Greenbush on Monday. His talk is titled, “Beyond the Affordable Care Act: Lessons From Vermont.”

The failure of the federal law known as Obamacare to include even a public option that would run parallel to a private insurance system moved the focus of the single-payer movement to the states. Vermont looked most likely to implement universal health coverage. In 2011, the state passed a law to establish such a system. But Gov. Peter Shumlin, who had signed the law, said in December that the state would not move forward with the plan because of its expense.

Himmelstein said the real obstacle to the Vermont plan was political. The cost in premiums to private insurance companies would shift to the tax burden on state residents.

It wasn’t more expensive, Himmelstein said, but it made politicians vulnerable to attack.

Workers whose employers pay for premiums under the former system don’t always recognize that those premium payments are part of their compensation, he said.

“At least over the medium and long-term, wages are almost certain to rise,” Himmelstein said of the impact of a single-payer system’s impact.

The federal Affordable Care Act has succeeded in ensuring that more Americans are covered by health insurance. But it has not necessarily improved access to medical care, Himmelstein said. Many Obamacare insurance plans come with high deductibles and co-payments, which do not make it easier for people to see a doctor early in their illness.

“We have vast numbers of people who have coverage but can’t really afford care,” Himmelstein said.

In New York, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has for more than 20 years proposed legislation to create a single-payer system. A study by a University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor released in March said the plan would save New Yorkers $45 billion a year in health-care expenditures.

Though a national health system — “Medicare for all” as it’s called — is really what Himmelstein’s group is after, he said it’s worth a push to get a system in New York only, for now.

“A really well-functioning state program could be infectious,” he said.

“Beyond the Affordable Care Act: Lessons From Vermont”

When: Monday 7 p.m.

Where: UAlbany School of Public Health, 1 University Place, East Greenbush

Info: Free and open to the public

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