Last week, we got great news from NY State of Health. As of February 25, over half a million New Yorkers had enrolled in insurance plans through NY State of Health. To put that in perspective, New York’s three year goal is to enroll 1 million New Yorkers in health plans. So, we’re already over halfway there, and we still have one-month to go in the first year of enrollment.
Even more exciting is the fact that 70 percent of enrollees were uninsured when they applied. That’s 350,844 New Yorkers that now have health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Big numbers are always hard to picture, so let’s break this down:
Let’s say all of those newly insured wanted to go see the Mets play at Citi Field. Big stadium, right? The capacity is 45,000. The over 350,000 newly insured New Yorkers would fill Citi Field. About 8 times.
That many uninsured New Yorkers finally getting health care is something to celebrate! And, we still have nearly a month to go until the end of open enrollment on March 31.
Photo: Advocates and consumers at HCFANY’s press conference about how the Governor’s budget would make coverage more affordable, stop surprise bills, and support consumer assistance programs. From left: Gladys Puglla, consumer; Mark Scherzer, New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage; Elisabeth Benjamin, Community Service Society; Lara Kassel, Medicaid Matters New York; Bob Cohen, Citizen Action of New York; Oswil Liz, consumer; Kate Breslin, Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy (podium)
It’s budget season, and our advocacy efforts are in full swing. Yesterday, HCFANY members and supporters gathered in Albany from across the state – some trekking 5 hours to get there – to advocate for our key budget priorities:
- Create a Basic Health Program
- Protect consumers from surprise medical bills
- Support consumer assistance programs
We were not alone – the halls and elevators were full of other advocates who came to the capitol to make their case to the legislature. More importantly, we are not alone in our continued efforts to advocate for quality, affordable health care!
Over the past few weeks, HCFANY and allied groups and coalitions have joined forces to make sure that the three proposals above (all in Governor Cuomo’s executive budget) remain in the budget as the process moves forward. We’ve submitted memos of support and organizational sign-on letters on surprise bills and our three budget priorities, and gathered in Albany for advocacy days. We’ve also held two press conferences featuring the real stories of New Yorkers who would be helped by the Governor’s budget proposals. This collaboration helps to amplify our voices in Albany.
Key Budget Priorities Press Conference
We kicked off yesterday’s HCFANY advocacy day with a press conference featuring both advocates and consumers. Members of the HCFANY steering committee – Mark Scherzer of New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage, Elisabeth Benjamin from the Community Service Society of New York, and Kate Breslin of Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy – joined Medicaid Matters New York Coalition Coordinator Lara Kassel to outline the benefits of the Basic Health Program, out-of-network protections, and consumer assistance programs. And, we heard from New Yorkers who have been directly affected by these issues:
Oswil Liz, 24, spoke about the challenge of affording health insurance, even with the subsidies available on the Marketplace. Thanks to the ACA, Oswil now has insurance, but with student loans and his wages working as a manager at McDonald’s, the premiums are still difficult for him to afford. A Basic Health Program would benefit Oswil and others in his situation.
Gladys Puglla, a single mother with three children told the stunning story of her experience with surprise medical bills. When Gladys had a stroke in 2012, she received services at two hospitals. Gladys has insurance, but she was unconscious when admitted to both hospitals and so couldn’t give her insurance information. After her treatment, she was hit with $138,000 in surprise medical bills for out-of-network services. Gladys makes $37,000 a year. Thankfully, Gladys was able to seek help from Make the Road New York, part of the Community Health Advocates statewide network of consumer assistance services. With their help, Gladys was able to reduce her bill and received a grant from the New York Times Neediest Cases fund to pay the difference. Many consumers do not have these resources, which is why HCFANY is working to stop surprise bills and support consumer assistance programs like those that helped Gladys.
Surprise Bills Press Conference
Late last week, Bill Ferris of AARP, Blair Horner of New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), and Chuck Bell of Consumers Union joined HCFANY members Heidi Siegfried of New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage, Mike Burgess of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and Gene Veigl and Aaron Ward of the MS Society at another press conference calling on the Legislature to pass the Governor’s legislation specifically to protect consumers from surprise medical bills.
Claudia Knafo, a concert pianist who received a surprise medical bill seeking $101,000 for neck surgery, for which her health plan offered to pay only $3,500, told her compelling story. You can see coverage by the local nbc affiliate here.
Learn more about our budget priorities:
This Saturday is National Youth Enrollment Day, a day of action to educate young adults on the importance of having health insurance. Celebrities like Amy Poehler (above), are helping to get the word out and the Young Invincibles campaign is encouraging people to share the message to friends and networks. Young adults between 19 and 34 have disproportionately high uninsured rates – those 19-29 have the highest rate in the country, representing over a third of the uninsured population. They also tend to be healthier than older adults. (Which doesn’t mean they (we) don’t want and need health insurance!)
Because this group tends to be healthy, there has been a lot of talk about so-called “Young Invincibles” and the way enrollment rates among these young adults may impact the overall success of the Health Insurance Marketplaces. The logic goes that if more healthy, young adults enroll in Marketplace plans, this will subsidize the older and sicker population that enrolls. With too many sick enrollees, experts expect to see higher insurance rates. As of the end of December, about 1/4 of enrollees around the nation were young adults – 26% in New York. Some have questioned whether these numbers are high enough to protect the risk pools, while others have pointed out that many young adults are likely to wait until later in the enrollment period to sign up. There is also controversy about whether “young adults” should really be the focus – in fact, the Commonwealth Fund just released a new report on the subject, arguing that it is the health status of the insured pool, not age, that really makes the difference.
We do know that thousands of New Yorkers between 19 and 35 have already signed up and are benefiting from the new, more affordable options available to them. Take Tamika G., a 26-year-old from Brooklyn who will now pay $135/month for insurance that gives her peace of mind and access to the services she needs. Tamika was eligible for financial assistance in the form of tax credits and cost-saving reductions – these reduced her monthly premium and lowered her other out-of-pocket costs. For many young adults who have struggled to afford insurance in the past, this financial assistance will make the dream of being covered a reality.
Now that she’s insured, Tamika is ready to share the love:
“I’m going to tell my friends as soon as I get home that this is the way to go. You don’t want to break your arm and worry about how you’re going to pay for it.”
Out of all of the attention on young adult enrollment, this is the message that should stand out: Health insurance is for all of us, young adults included. Now that we have our chance to finally have the affordable, quality coverage we deserve, let’s take it – and make sure our friends do, too.
Left: Adora Campis (red hat) with parade participants at the annual Three King’s Day parade in Harlem; Right: Adora and Maryanne Tomazic of Raising Women’s Voices – NY at HCFANY’s Annual Meeting Thursday, January 9.
Guest post: Lois Uttley, Director, MergerWatch Project/Raising Women’s Voices-NY
Adora Campis is a part-time bilingual (English and Spanish) outreach worker for Raising Women’s Voices-NY. She will go pretty much anywhere to find uninsured women and families and tell them about the new health coverage options available through NY State of Health, New York’s Marketplace!
Last Monday, she joined the annual Three King’s Day parade through East Harlem to talk to uninsured people along the route in this neighborhood with many low-income, Spanish-speaking people. (She’s in the red hat in the photo left, above). Later in the week , she spoke at HCFANY’s annual meeting in Albany about why she is so passionate about her work.
Here is her story:
I’m sure you want to know about the faces of the uninsured that I have met in New York City. This much I know. From a homeless person at a soup kitchen starving for medical care, to a degree-holding woman facing loss of coverage and having to pay too much for COBRA – they want and are eager for affordable health care.
The timing is right. The uninsured are diverse and come from all walks of life. Some of them are people in between jobs, others are at jobs that have no health benefits. Some are recent college graduates, others are new citizens. Some have young kids, others are still kids themselves.
Sometimes they are people like me. I am a single mother and raised two children on my own. My son unexpectedly needed health care while he was in college. Luckily he had health insurance. It wasn’t the best, so we still got a $1,000 bill. But there was peace of mind knowing that he was able to get the care he needed.
I didn’t have health insurance though. Last year, I had worked for a couple organizations part-time, but still couldn’t afford to buy health care coverage on my own. Because New York decided to expand Medicaid eligibility this year, I was able to enroll in health insurance through NY State of Health and now am covered.
That’s what I love about going into the community to talk about these new changes. I know it works. It can be scary approaching strangers at community events to talk about health reform, but I’ve found that everyone is very passionate about this. They have personal, sometimes painful stories. But they all end in the fact that this change couldn’t be any more timely. People welcome it!