As the end of this month nears, individuals and families who lack health insurance are flocking to sign-up for affordable coverage through New York’s new health benefits exchange, known as “New York State of Health”. If enrolled in a plan by March 31st, they will escape an additional tax next year, provided they don’t qualify for a special exemption (see complete list at www.healthcare.gov/exemptions/). Meanwhile, advocates and activists are hitting the streets, church halls, community centers, etc. in one last effort to find the uninsured and get them enrolled in a health plan.
The Good News!
Financial Assistance: The vast majority of applicants will likely qualify for:
- No-cost coverage through Medicaid if they have low or no income (approx. $15,000 for an individual.)
- No-cost or very low cost coverage for most children through New York’s “Child Health Plus” program (up to approx. $94,000 for a family of four.)
- Premium subsidies to help them purchase private “Qualified Health Plans” (QHPs) offered on the exchange, per a sliding-scale based on family size and income. The subsidies are available to individuals who make up to approx. $45,000 annual income, and up to $94,000 for a family of four.
- Additional help paying for deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance if they have modest incomes just above the Medicaid eligibility level.
Thanks to the historic Affordable Care Act, much more affordable health coverage is now available to uninsured New Yorkers through New York State of Health. Premium prices have, on average, dropped 53% compared to 2013 prices. As of March 24, one week out from the enrollment deadline, over a million New Yorkers had created an account and completed an application, and over 700,000 had completed the process and enrolled in a health plan. These numbers are higher than anticipated projections.
Where and How to Get FREE HELP Enrolling in Coverage:
- Via the state’s website: www.nystateofhealth.ny.gov (includes a live chat function to provide assistance)
- Via the state’s Call Center: 855-355-5777 (Mon.-Fri. from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sat. from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
- Via community-based “Navigators” in each county/borough (http://info.nystateofhealth.ny.gov/IPANavigatorSiteLocations)
- Via “Certified Application Counselors” (CACs) at local hospitals and community health centers
- Via traditional insurance agents and brokers (note: they are not allowed to charge commissions.)
People can also contact New York’s designated Consumer Assistance Program known as “Community Health Advocates” (www.communityhealthadvocates.org or 888-614-5400). This program, created and funded under the ACA, is a statewide network of community-based organizations that provides insurance counseling to people. They can also refer people to Navigators and answer basic questions about enrollment in plans. Some of them may also Navigators who can enroll people, while others are not.
After the “2014 Open Enrollment” period closes on March 31st, people can still enroll in a plan in the following circumstances:
- Low-income people who qualify for Medicaid can enroll at any time (up to approx. $15,000 annual income for an individual, or higher income amounts depending on family size.)
- Children can enroll in Family Health Plus at any time (up to $94,000 annual income for a family of four.)
- Small employers (50 or less full-time workers) can purchase coverage for their employees at any time.
- People who have special “life changing” events (marriage/divorce, birth of a child, move to a new town/state/region, age-off of parent’s plan, lose or change jobs, etc.) are allowed to enroll in QHPs at any time.
- DON’T DELAY! Uninsured people should start the process as soon as possible. As the deadline approaches, Call Center phone lines will be busy, websites will slow down, and Navigators and CACs will be booked up for appointments. ACT NOW!
- People on Medicare don’t have to worry about any of this – they stay in the separate Medicare system just as is.
- Workers who have employer-sponsored insurance that complies with Affordable Care Act (ACA) standards also don’t have to worry about any of this. Check with your human resources dept. to confirm if your current coverage is OK.
FINALLY… our job as those who care….
- Reach out to the uninsured to provide them with this basic information
- Encourage them to go online or call the Call Center to get things started …NOW!
- Help them create an online account and get the basic information entered about their family size and expected income for 2014
- Get them to a Navigator, CAC, insurance broker or agent for in-person assistance in enrolling in a plan, if needed
Scores of New Yorkers from trade unions, community groups, and school children gathered just off Washington Square in Greenwich Village on March 25 to commemorate the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 and remember those who died in the fire, many of whom were young immigrant workers, most of them women. The ceremony was held outside the building that housed the factory back then, which is now part of the campus of New York University. Speakers included local trade union leaders, public officials, clergy, and first responders, including Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, Stuart Appelbaum of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, and NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Specially-featured speakers were leaders from the “new labor organizing movement” that focuses on fast-food workers, airport workers, and “car washeros”, many of whom are immigrants and work in potentially-dangerous circumstances.
Members of Workers United, a successor union to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, held aloft on poles dresses and shirts each bearing the name of one of the casualties of the historic fire. At the end of the ceremony, a stream of people read off their names and placed a white carnation for each at the foot of the building adjacent to a fire truck with its ladder raised against it. A uniformed fire fighter rang a bell for each name as a recording of bag pipe music played in the background. Among those reading off the names were public school students, immigrant trade unionists, and some descendants of those who died in the fire, who directly referenced their own ancestors. Following those names, red carnations were added for the many garment workers who’ve died in similar factory fires and accidents in Asia in recent years.
146 workers, 123 women and 23 men, perished on the late Saturday afternoon in 1911 when a fire engulfed floors eight through ten of the Asch Building on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. Though firefighters responded promptly, their ladders only reached up to the sixth floor. The shoddy fire escape quickly collapsed, taking 20 workers down with it. With one stairway exit blocked by flames and the others locked by the owners, workers faced a choice between jumping to their deaths or succumbing to flame and smoke. The horror of the fire led to the fight for and implementation of a wide array of new health and safety standards in the workplace at the city, state, and federal levels, as well as the formation of the American Society of Safety Engineers.
Political activists of various stripes who work on various issues, including health care, converged at the top of the “Million Dollar Staircase” inside the State Capitol on March 11th to demand that lawmakers clean up Albany politics. They called on legislators to move forward with a plan to curtail the influence of “Big Money” in election campaigns, and replace it with a system of public matching funds linked to small donations collected from constituents. Known as a “Fair Elections” approach, the plan would replicate a system in New York City that has been in place for well over a decade and take it statewide. The result in the City has been to completely transform municipal government so that it is much more reflective of the city’s demographics, and much more responsive to everyday residents’ concerns and priorities, such as access to affordable health care.
Before a throng of cameras and reporters, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver addressed an enthusiastic crowd of over 200 people who were jammed into the stairwell and hanging over balconies. He announced that the Assembly was including a Fair Elections proposal in its own just-released budget bill (to be voted on by the end of the week), saying it was time to “get it done.” Over the past decade, there have been numerous financial corruption scandals involving leaders and members of the State Legislature, leading to indictments, resignations, convictions, and jail time.
A Fair Elections proposal has been enacted by the State Assembly numerous times over the past decade, and Governor Cuomo included such a proposal in his own proposed budget released in January. It will now go forward into final negotiations with State Senate leaders where there are differences within the coalition governing majority comprised of Republicans and five (renegade) Independent Democrats. Here in New York City, there is only one Republican Senator (Martin Golden of Brooklyn), and three Independent Democrats (Jeff Klein of the Bronx, who leads the faction, Diane Savino of Staten Island and southwest Brooklyn, and Tony Avella of eastern Queens.) The budget process is to be concluded by the end of March when the new fiscal year begins for the state on April 1.
Issue advocates, including those who work on health care reform, have long believed that many of our aspirations and good ideas to make things better for everyday New Yorkers have been stopped dead in their tracks because of the inordinate influence of Big Money forces, such as millionaires and large, powerful corporations. Historically, they have had disproportionate sway over individual legislators because of the money they contribute to candidates’ election campaigns. In the area of health care, many believe New York would have enacted a truly universal health care program years ago had it not been for the dominance of the insurance companies and other stakeholders striving to protect, if not expand, their profiteering off the health care system. While New York has certainly been a “leader state” in the area of health care compared to most other states, prospects for much more progress will be possible under a Fair Elections system because elected officials will be much more beholden to the electorate rather than Big Money donors. We look forward to that day with eagerness and hope.
Members of various health care unions and community health care activists took to the streets of Manhattan’s Upper East Side on March 8th to commemorate International Women’s Day, and call-out the influence of billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch in funding campaigns to restrict health care choices for women. The two brothers are Midwest industrialists and investors who are well-known for financially supporting conservative political causes and candidates, including efforts by states to curtail women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care and collective bargaining rights.
The event was organized by the New York State Nurses Association, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, and local chapters of the NAACP. Other sponsoring groups included ACT UP/NY, Doctors for the 99%, Healthcare for the 99%, Healthcare Now NYC, Metro NY Health Care for All Campaign, the NY Metro chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, and others.
The day began with a “pancake-breakfast-in-the-streets” outside New York Hospital. David Koch recently gave them a $100M donation to fund construction of a new building there to be named after him. From there, the group marched to a nearby Chase bank branch for a rally decrying the casino-like gambling of Wall St. speculators and their investor clientele (like the Koch brothers) that brought about the Great Recession which is still an ongoing reality for millions of struggling New Yorkers. They were joined there by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. After the rally, the group marched over to the Park Ave. location where David Koch has an apartment that he uses when in New York.