NYS Dems push for universal health care with an eye on small business

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As the pandemic winds down, momentum appears to be building up behind a universal single-payer healthcare plan in New York state.

For the first time, a slim majority of lawmakers in Albany support the idea.

The proposal on the table, known as the New York Health Act, is similar to healthcare plan Sen. Bernie Sanders has pushed for the last few years. (Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, caucuses with the Democrats.) Under the Act, all basic private health insurance would go away, as would networks, premiums, deductibles and co-pays.  

However, more money would come out of paychecks. Businesses would be taxed more as well.

It is with a focus on businesses in mind, members of the NY business community like Sarina Prabasi, owner of a small chain of coffee shops in Northern Manhattan, held a virtual forum Tuesday.

Members of the New York business community held a virtual forum Tuesday with their needs in mind; Sarina Prabasi owns a small chain of coffee shops in Northern Manhattan.

She said for years, she’s wanted to provide health insurance to her employees.

“Every year we sit down and do the number, and say this is the year,” she said.  “And the cost of the premiums for ourselves and staff come to what is more than our profit.”

The New York Health Act payroll tax would eliminate the need for small business owners like Prabasi to try and shop for insurance, which is usually more expensive without the buying power of a bigger company. The tax would increase progressively on employees making more than $25,000.

For example, someone making $75,000 annually would pay about $1,800 per year. Their employer would pay about $9,000.

FAQs from advocates for New York’s single-payer plan

A majority of Democratic state lawmakers now favor the plan, having seen many constituents lose their employer-based health insurance during the pandemic. Republicans argue it will be yet another tax on business that will hurt the state’s economy.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Democrat from Queens, said during the virtual forum the payroll tax will save companies money when you factor in all the time and dollars spent on healthcare.

“What we’re looking to do is take this off the table for business owners, as just another thing they have to deal with,” Ramos said.

However, lack of Republican support is not the main challenge advocates of universal healthcare in New York will have to overcome.

Embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo has for years argued single-payer healthcare would be better done by the federal government in a unified way.  He also has said re-vamping the insurance system would be unnecessarily disruptive to the vast majority of New Yorkers who already have health insurance.

The prime sponsor of this universal health care plan in the State Senate, Sen. Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx, said passing it without any support from Cuomo is just not possible.  

However, Rivera and advocates intend to keep the pressure on, as the governor has shifted his positions to the left on marijuana, sports betting, education funding and taxes, since being accused of mishandling nursing homes during the pandemic, sexual misconduct, and misusing government resources for his own personal gain.

Read more from PIX11: Cuomo Crisis

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