By Bob Cohen, Policy Director, Citizen Action of New York
In the 2021 session’s closing weeks, the Assembly and Senate each passed two important pieces of legislation, which — if signed by the Governor — will strongly assist health care consumers.
- Lawsuits Against Consumers: Between 2015 and 2019, New York hospitals sued over 40,000 New Yorkers who could not pay their bills, according to a Community Service Society report. And in this time of COVID, consumers have been falling behind on many other bills, including for student loans, credit cards and gas and electric service. Legislation that passed both houses of the Legislature (A6474A/S5724A) would provide much needed relief by lowering the interest rates that may be charged on court judgments on consumer debt from an outrageous 9% to a more reasonable 2%.
- Protecting Communities When Hospitals Downsize: Statewide, over 40 hospitals have closed since 2002 — disproportionately in neighborhoods populated by people of color and immigrants. The Assembly and Senate responded by passing legislation (A191A/S1451A) to require a “health equity assessment” when a hospital proposes to merge, close or otherwise reduce services, providing these neighborhoods with a vehicle to challenge service reductions that disproportionately harm underserved communities.
2021 was a disappointing year for health care consumers. The Legislature failed to act on NY Health, a critical bill to provide comprehensive coverage to all New Yorkers, eliminating premiums, co-pays, and other out-of-pocket costs. And even in the wage of COVID, modest legislation to extend Essential Plan coverage to low-income immigrants with COVID who are ineligible for coverage due to their immigration status did not pass. Finally, the Legislature failed to pass the Patient Medical Debt Protection Act (A1538/S3057), which would have provided strong protections to patients overrun by medical debt by, for example, banning deceptive “facilities fees” tacked onto hospital bills that don’t reflect medical services performed, and prohibiting consumers from receiving multiple bills from the same hospital stay.
Signing the interest rate and health equity bills will be an important signal that the Governor hears the cries of New York families struggling to obtain adequate health care and wrestling with large medical debts.
Patients and advocates can help by contacting Governor Hochul and letting her know that these bills are important. New Yorkers can email or call her office at 1-518-474-8390. Elected officials want to hear from constituents – these contacts are important! If you are an organization and interested in submitting a memo of support, HCFANY has templates. You can also support these bills by sharing your health care stories, whether with the Governor or with us. How has being in a neighborhood without adequate hospital beds affected you? Have you been put into collections or sued over medical debt? Your experiences are important!