New York State Inches Closer To Single-Payer Plan With Pickup Of New Support

But critics wonder whether the additional backing is merely symbolic.

The push to implement a “Medicare for all”-type system in New York state just took a significant step forward Wednesday. Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who heads the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate, plans to co-sponsor the measure, and will bring along the remaining holdout in his caucus, his spokeswoman Candice Giove told The Huffington Post.

That gives the measure the unanimous support of the IDC, a crucial, and often recalcitrant, bloc of lawmakers. “All members of the independent conference will become cosponsors of that bill,” Giove said.

In a statement, Klein cited President Donald Trump’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the protections it provides as a reason he is backing the creation of a single-payer health insurance system in New York.

“A single-payer system would create the peace of mind that residents could have access to quality medical care including outpatient and inpatient medical care, primary and preventive care, prescription drugs and laboratory tests,” Klein said.

The New York Senate is a strange place. With 63 seats, 32 senators are needed for a majority. Republicans have only 31, but an additional Democrat, Sen. Simcha Felder, caucuses with Republicans, giving them control of the chamber. Meanwhile, the eight members of the IDC do not caucus with the rest of the Democrats.

Sen. Michael Gianaris, the deputy leader of the state Senate’s mainstream Democratic conference, welcomed the IDC’s support, even as he lamented that their collaboration with Republicans helped prevent the bill’s passage.

“It’s nice that they are putting their names on the bill, but their partners in government are the ones with the power to prevent it from seeing the light of day,” Gianaris said.

Although Republicans have the majority without the IDC, thanks to Felder, Gianaris believes the breakaway caucus has made the problem worse.

“With the Democrats being divided in the Senate, we lose the ability to pressure Felder to come back or grow the conference in other ways, because we’re too busy dealing with each other,” Gianaris said.

But the support of the IDC is a critical development in the push for single-payer health care, as the state assembly is expected to easily pass its version of the bill in April or May, said one of the bill’s lead backers, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who represents the northwest Bronx.

The New York Assembly, the state’s lower legislative chamber, passed the same measure in 2015 and 2016, but it wasn’t considered in the state Senate, which Republicans control with the support of the Independent Democratic Caucus.

Despite being within striking distance of passing the single-payer bill in the New York Senate, victory for its proponents seems unlikely given GOP opposition. Rallies are planned in support of single-payer health care in New York City Saturday and Albany, the state capital, Tuesday.

New York State Sen. Jeffrey Klein, leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Caucus, has announced his support for a single-payer health insurance bill.
New York State Sen. Jeffrey Klein, leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Caucus, has announced his support for a single-payer health insurance bill.
Monica Schipper/Getty Images

It is not clear why IDC members chose this time to get behind legislation introduced by Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a member of the mainstream Senate Democratic caucus ― particularly since Republican control of the chamber forecloses the bill’s passage.

There are signs that the IDC is feeling pressure from a progressive Democratic base newly energized by Trump’s election. Over 100 protesters booed Sen. Jose Peralta for his IDC membership outside a February town hall in Queens. Anti-IDC activists have even formed their own group, “No IDC NY,” to oppose the renegade Democrats.

“The IDC has been feeling enormous pressure since the inauguration from voters in their districts who were shocked to find out the Democrats they elected have been propping up Trump Republicans in the state Senate,” Bill Lipton, the Working Families Party’s New York director, said in a statement. “Now they’re backing legislation that their own support of Republican leadership ensures will never even make it to the floor. That’s the height of cynicism and just more evidence of the heat they are feeling from the resistance.”

Whatever the outcome in New York, the failure of President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with an alternate plan that would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 24 million has given a boost to progressives seeking to go beyond Obamacare.

Legislators in California have launched a new push to implement a single-payer program in the most populous state in the nation, although Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has expressed misgivings about its cost.

The Affordable Care Act contains a provision that would allow states to make sweeping changes to their health care markets, including instituting a single-payer program that would replace the current private system, so long as the state programs cover as many people with equivalent benefits at no additional cost to the federal government. Vermont worked for several years after the Affordable Care Act’s passage to design a single-payer program, but abandoned the effort over its expense.

“In the wake of Trump being elected, the issue of health care has moved to the top of the agenda for a lot of people.”

- New York Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz

Excluding the IDC, the mainstream Democrats hold 22 seats in the New York state Senate and will soon hold 23 once a special election is held in a Democratic district.

But even with all mainstream Democrats and the IDC on board, they would remain one vote short, meaning Democrats need to either pick up a seat before 2018, persuade a Republican or win the chamber outright in 2018. This being New York, a Republican senator was coincidentally indicted just last week, so it’s always possible a new seat could become available.

If not, said Dinowitz, his hope is that the newfound energy among grassroots Democrats can translate into some Senate seat pickups in 2018. “We need to add one more person. I believe the only way to get to 32 is through the election process,” Dinowitz said. “There is a lot of energy now in my area and other areas. Meetings are attracting huge numbers of people, and a lot of people are coming out, most of whom have never been involved in this way. If it’s sustained it could really change the dynamics of the elections come 2018.”

Controlling the chamber is also crucial because the party in power controls the floor schedule. Even if Democrats persuaded a Republican to sign on, they’d need to similarly persuade the Republican leadership to allow a vote.

Dinowitz said that groups affiliated with Indivisible, a grassroots activism network that arose after the election, have been particularly active on the single-payer issue, and that in meetings with new activists, the number one issue they care about is health care, followed closely by immigration.

“In the wake of Trump being elected, the issue of health care has moved to the top of the agenda for a lot of people. If people think we can rest on our laurels because repeal of Obamacare collapsed, they’re mistaken. Obamacare was a compromise of a compromise,” Dinowitz said, noting that not only was it not the single-payer system many prefer, but the public option was traded away.

If both California and New York can implement a single-payer heath care system in the next few years, he added, something like a fifth of the country will be covered just by those two states.

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