U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited the Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Center in Albany Thursday, touting a new bill that would expand New York’s basic health plan.
Gillibrand, a Democrat who faces Republican Chele Farley in Tuesday’s election, is promoting the Basic Health Program Expansion Act of 2018, which would build on enrollment through the state-run Affordable Care Act exchange. Gillibrand’s office says it would allow New York to broaden access to the low-cost Basic Health Program, extending it to low- and middle-income New Yorkers who don’t qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but might not be able to pay for health insurance on their own. "What you're doing here is saving lives, making a difference. Making sure people have access to life-saving care when they need it. And the bottom line is that health care should be a right and it should not be a privilege. And so we need advocates like yourself and health centers like this to be able to reach out to our communities to basically provide that care. Because it shouldn't matter if you can afford it. It shouldn't matter how much your insurance company wants to charge you, particularly if you have a pre-existing condition. We shouldn't be determining whether people have coverage based on how much money they make."
In New York, the program is only available to those who earn up to $24,280 a year. The legislation would double that. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says expanding the basic health plan would be a win for the community. "Residents in the city often tell me that they have to struggle with deciding on whether or not to take a higher-paying position or maintaining their benefits. That's a choice no one should have to make. We should have a ramp-up opportunity as we fight for a higher minimum wage, as we fight for higher pay and pay equity we need to ensure that people are able to maintain their benefits."
David Shippee, President and CEO of Whitney Young Health, says the Basic Health Program Expansion Act would allow New York to extend its Essential Plan coverage to include an additional 400,000 low-to-middle-income New Yorkers who don’t qualify for Medicaid. "This is a great step forward. To be able to hardwire this into the benefits system would be tremendous. So it's one thing for us to get people engaged in care, and many of them do that when they get benefits for the first time, and so we get a lot of folks that start out on Medicaid. Again, they're fortunate enough to get a great job, they become unqualified, they step in to that level of uninsuredness. For people with chronic disease, we need to get them engaged and keep them engaged, so when they fall out of care because of unaffordability, we just slide back."
State Assemblyman John McDonald, also a Democrat, says government needs to define what benefits should be... "...what should be core elements. But then government should also make a decision 'how far do we wanna subsidize.' What the Senator is talking about today moves up that economic ladder to make sure that individuals do not lose coverage and do not become financially impoverished because they're advancing themselves."
Again, Senator Gillibrand: "Healthcare is in a precarious situation, and if we don't have advocates in Washington, who truly believe that health care should be a right and not a privilege, it will be taken away — from people who have pre-existing conditions and people who can't afford health care. Because that is President Trump's plan. He does not believe in universal coverage, he does not believe in affordable coverage. He believes in giving power to the insurance companies to charge whatever they want."
Gillibrand hopes her bill will gain bipartisan support.
From the press release: The Basic Health Program Expansion Act of 2018 that Gillibrand is fighting to pass would do the following:
· Expands BHP eligibility to the state’s income eligibility levels for the Children’s Health Insurance Program in order to cover more lower-income individuals. Currently, a state’s BHP can provide coverage to individuals with incomes between 133 and 200 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL) who do not qualify for Medicaid, CHIP, or other minimum essential coverage. This bill would allow New York State to expand eligibility to people with incomes up to 400 percent of the FPL, which in 2018 was an income of $48,560 for an individual.
· Allows states to use existing federal BHP funds for administrative and start-up costs for up to one year. Provides new flexibility for states to allow them to use existing BHP funds to help with the costs of implementing a new program for up to one year after enactment. Cost sharing and administration of a new program have been cited as barriers to implementing a BHP.
BHP benefits include all 10 of the essential benefits covered under the ACA:
- Outpatient care
- Emergency services
- Maternity and newborn care
- Mental health services, including drug and alcohol addiction treatment
- Prescription drugs
- Rehabilitative services and devices, such as physical therapy
- Lab services including X-rays, CAT scans, bloodwork, ultrasounds, etc.
- Preventative services
- Pediatric services