New Yorkers will soon have access to comprehensive healthcare, available to everyone, regardless of their income and/or immigration status, through a newly announced program called NYC Care. Mayor Bill de Blasio first broadcast the plan on MSNBC Tuesday morning, offering more details at a press conference held at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.
The basic premise: The approximately 600,000 uninsured people currently living in New York City will gain free or affordable access to primary and secondary providers, thanks to a strengthened public insurance plan (the existing MetroPlus) and a new program called NYC Care. Officials expect it will be two years before they can get the plan completely off the ground, but once it is, "Every New Yorker who needs a doctor will have an actual doctor with a name, they'll have a place [to go], they'll have a card that will empower them to go whenever they need," de Blasio pledged. "From this moment on in New York City, everyone is guaranteed the right to healthcare. Everyone."
"We are saying the word guarantee because we can make it happen," the mayor added, emphasizing that the program would be unprecedented in the United States.
Notably, NYC Care does not mean universal health insurance. Rather, it involves bolstering MetroPlus for those who are eligible, and ensuring that those who can't sign up for insurance can use the city's public hospital and clinic program—NYC Health + Hospitals—for all their medical needs, including mental health and secondary services like pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, and substance abuse treatment. Once the program is fully operational, interested parties can either call 311 or visit nyc.gov, and staff will set them up with a primary care contact. The city intends to set up a 24/7 help line to assist people with their after-hours needs as well.
Health care isn’t just a right in theory, it must be a right in practice. Today I’m announcing a plan to guarantee health care for all New Yorkers. Through our own public option and a new program called NYC Care, we’ll ensure the first stop for people isn’t the emergency room.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) January 8, 2019
Through NYC Care, everything, including prescriptions, will be available on a sliding scale that allows participants to pay either what they can afford or nothing at all. The only current exception seems to be dental.
The city plans to contribute $100 million in funding for NYC Care, which de Blasio described as "a really smart down payment on a lot of good things it'll yield later on." Right now, he explained, many of the city's uninsured put off medical attention when they need it because they assume they can't afford it. As a result, they end up in the emergency room for complaints great and small, typically receiving care for a problem that's become much more serious during the wait. By making people aware that they won't have to pay to see a doctor, or to pick up a prescription, the mayor expects to avert a huge cost.
"There's a smoothing that occurs when you take a group of people who are getting very expensive care much later than they should, and that is a huge burden on the healthcare system," he explained. When you get people in front of a physician in a timely manner, when you avoid hospitalizations and intensive treatments, you cut out a staggering expense: Those savings are projected to help cover NYC Care.
The mayor's office insists the NYC Care program is not intended as a substitute for a universal health insurance plan that some Democratic state legislators are pushing for, or a national single-payer plan. De Blasio aides told the NY Times that the NYC Care initiative is simply "something the city could do immediately and on its own."
The city plans to begin improving MetroPlus now, and to expand access for ineligible New Yorkers starting this summer. Officials hope to get the program up and running within two years, and while they weren't able to project wait times for secondary physicians, they hope that participants won't have to wait more than a week or two to see a primary doctor.