Health care for all NY: an idea whose time has come

Health care for all NY: an idea whose time has come

There is an old Russian tale about two farmers. One of them said, “He has a cow and I don’t. I want his cow dead.

Sometimes I feel like people say that about those of us who are lucky enough to be unionized. Why do you have sick days? Why do you have a vacation? Why can’t you get fired for no reason?

As a trade unionist, I think differently from the farmer. I wonder why other Americans can’t have sick days, vacations, and job protections. More than that, however, I wonder why other Americans don’t have health insurance or have to dig deep into their bank accounts to pay outrageous sums every month.

On weekends, I work as a musician. One Sunday, I had lunch with a banjo player while waiting for our work to begin. I remember we both ordered Reuben sandwiches. On Tuesday, this banjo player had chest pains. He decided not to go to the ER because it would have cost him thousands of dollars he didn’t have. Wednesday he was dead.

I don’t have to worry about going to the emergency room. I have a $150 co-pay now, but that won’t stop me. I hope my union and others will grow and that fewer Americans will be faced with such difficult choices.

Yet here in New York, we are falling back. If and when I retire, if my wife and I choose traditional Medicare instead of a new inferior Medicare Advantage program he is launching, it will cost us nearly $5,000 a year. This is how the city plans to save money on health care, since the federal government would foot the bill for the new plan.

A rising tide lifts all boats, and that’s exactly what union is for. But we seem to be pushing boats underwater.

There is a better answer. Almost every industrialized country has invented it in one way or another. We must provide health care to all. A giant step towards this in our state would be the New York Health Act. Unfortunately, my union, the United Federation of Teachers, opposes it.

I’ve heard several reasons why. The first is that it would make a big hole in the state budget, excluding funding for education. I guess it’s possible, but we could and should find ways to deal with this problem. We do not improve one public good by abandoning another. And yes, taxes on those who can afford it could support that. It’s mind-boggling that health care can be a reprehensible expense. What is most important?

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If we pass this bill, an entire state could negotiate prices with 500 hospitals better than 500 different companies and union plans do. Maybe all the money I and other New Yorkers pay for co-payments and other medical expenses could go to that as well.

Another rationale for my union’s opposition is that we union members receive health benefits that are somehow not included in the NYHA. I know that the sponsors of the bill proposed to modify it to meet the objections of the unions.

Maybe we could keep them. A better approach, however, would be to make sure all New Yorkers get all the benefits we have. We should not act like a bunch of malicious farmers.

It is incumbent upon us, as trade unionists and citizens, to deliver benefits to all. Health care, like other social goods, is not a zero-sum game. We just can’t compete with other New Yorkers. We shouldn’t just say we have this and you can’t. It is in fact an anti-union position.

When wages rise in union stores, non-union stores also follow. We must do absolutely everything in our power to ensure that our brothers and sisters across the state receive health benefits, just as we do. In fact, we should get out of the health sector as much as possible and focus more on our profession.

It is our responsibility to support and activate the New York Health Act. Given that the current political climate precludes universal health care at the national level, this is our best chance to make a meaningful step forward. That’s how we did it in Canada, and if they can do it, so can we.

Goldstein is an English as a New Language teacher at Francis Lewis High School in Queens.

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