Advocates, organizations, and consumers join forces in Albany

Posted March, 4 2014 by Amanda


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:

Basic Health Program: take a look at our policy brief and read the Community Service Society 2012 report

Stop Surprise Bills: Read our policy brief and visit our new take action: stop surprise bills page and Consumer Union’s new website:

Consumer Assistance: Read our policy brief and visit

Leave a comment