The phrase “universal health care” has been on the minds of many Americans for over a decade. The language from a new report by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus and Campaign for New York Health urges the state assembly and the state senate to pass legislation ending medical debt. An issue that affects many low-income New Yorkers.

Released last and titled “Healthcare and Racial Justice: Systemic Change Is Needed for a More Equitable Health System,” the report states that universal, single payer healthcare plans would contribute significantly to racial equity providing New Yorkers of all races and ethnicities better health care across the state. With Black, Latinx and other ethnic minorities suffering from COVID-19 and dying at higher rates than white New Yorkers, better medical care wouldn’t have left people in the dark about what other ailments they have that might affect their reaction to a COVID-19 infection.

Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) were more likely than white people to be uninsured and have medical debt.

In New York City, Blacks were more likely to die of complications from pregnancy than white women with 63% of the deaths being preventable. And communities of mostly non-white people tend to have a lower number of medical providers.

The legislative caucus decided to act.

New York Health Act (S.5474), sponsored by State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, would establish a “comprehensive system of health insurance for all New York state residents.” Every New Yorker regardless of age, economic status or employment could enroll in a health plan where there would be “no network restrictions, deductibles, or co-pays. Coverage would be publicly funded,” and it includes inpatient and outpatient care and primary and preventive care.
Rivera said that the issue of racial equity in the healthcare system needs to end now.

“If we are to effectively address the racial inequities prevalent throughout our healthcare system, we must radically change the way we deliver health care to New Yorkers,” Rivera said in a statement. “As the Campaign for New York Health’s new report further highlights, it is critical that we pass the New York Health Act to guarantee comprehensive healthcare coverage to all New Yorkers and in that way, move the needle forward to eliminate our de facto two-tier system of care and truly improve our state’s health outcomes as a whole.”

According to a 2020 report from the Community Service Society of New York titled “How Structural Inequalities in New York’s Health Care System Exacerbate Health Disparities During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Call for Equitable Reform,” researchers found that not only did medical access, or lack thereof, contribute to racial equity, but it went hand in hand with housing policies with people of color in New York City more likely to live in crowded neighborhoods with low-quality housing and don’t have jobs where they can work remotely during the pandemic.

CSS’s report also states that 75% of essential workers are people of color and more non-white communities have higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease—all conditions that leave people more vulnerable to the virus.

Lisa Ohta, president of UAW Local 2325 – Assoc. of Legal Aid Attorneys, said that the state legislature needs to contribute in lifting the burden of medical debt from people of color.
“Racial disparities in health services are another way that racism affects the health of communities of color. This has been magnified by COVID-19,” Ohta stated. “Public health insurance programs play a major role in providing affordable care and better outcomes, especially for Black Americans. Comprehensive, quality, and affordable health care must be a legislative priority. ALAA, along with the Campaign for New York Health, joined the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus to urge our legislative leaders to bring the New York Health Act to a vote this session.”

Tonia Bazel RN, of the New York State Nurses Association’s Infectious Disease Unit, spoke about her personal experience with medical debt and what lack of access has done to her and her family members.

“Eight years ago, I had to file bankruptcy in order not to lose my home because of mounting medical bills, while on short term disability for having had two different surgical interventions on my back, consequences of the toll my work as a nurse has taken on my body,” stated Bazel. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell any of you about the long-term effect bankruptcy is having on this Black woman’s ability to be considered to have credit in good standing. I have many family members who have lost a limb or two because they can’t or couldn’t afford medical care, or they have died, much too soon, because they were among those who fall through the large fissures in our current healthcare system.”

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