July 30th was a busy and heady day for New York City’s health care justice movement! It started off with a wonderfully uplifting celebration of the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid that took place in the morning at the Professional Staff Congress Union Hall in lower Manhattan. The place was packed.
Celebrants were honored to be joined by HHS Region 2 Director Jackie Cornell-Bechelli and her Region 2 CMS Director Frank Winter, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (NY-7th CD, Brooklyn & Queens) , NYS Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (Manhattan), NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, and staff from Rep. Joe Crowley and the NYC Dept. for the Aging. Thereafter, brief remarks were given by from Dr. Matthews Hurley (Doctors Council, SEIU), Dr. Hemant Sindhu (Committee of Interns and Residents, SEIU), Steve Toff (NY State Nurses Assoc.), Andrew Leonard (Children’s Defense Fund), Chris Widelo (AARP-NY), Audrey Iszard (NYS Alliance for Retired Americans), Mario Henry (NY Statewide Senior Action Council), Monnie Callan (1199 SEIU Retirees), and Vince Gaglione (UFT Retirees). The formal program closed out with a panel of activists talking about what is needed now to “protect, improve, and expand” Medicare and Medicaid, including John Hyland (Professional Staff Congress), Krystal Scott (Medicare Rights Center), Heidi Siegfried (Center for Independence of the Disabled in NY), Dr. Oliver Fein (Physicians for a National Health Program), and Mark Hannay (Metro NY Health Care for All). The event ended by sharing in apple pie, and a cake proclaiming “Hurray for Medicare and Medicaid at 50!”
For the afternoon, a dozen or so attendees crossed over the harbor to join Staten Island trade unionists and activists at Staten Island Borough Hall for a press conference calling on the NYC Congressional delegation to protect, improve, and expand Medicare and Medicaid in the current budget fight. Earlier this year, the Republican majority adopted a budget resolution to cut trillions from various health care programs over the next decade, rather than close corporate tax loopholes and giveaways, end wasteful military spending, and restore taxes on the wealthy. After taking the obligatory photos for various communications purposes, just as the first speaker began the skies suddenly opened and it rained torrents for a good 10-15 min. Despite umbrellas, all ended up soaked to the bone, yet maintained good spirits.
The salvation was that a handful then left for a scheduled meeting with the office of Rep. Dan Donovan, the newly-elected Congressmember from Staten Island, and the only member of the House Republican majority from NYC. The group met with his District Director (Brendan Landry) and Constituent Services Director to express our concerns about ideas on the table in the budget negotiations that will severely impact Medicare and Medicaid. The attendees took along a homemade apple pie (just out of the oven!) made by UFT retiree Teri Caliari, and a gigantic homemade Medicare birthday card signed by a doctors and nurses from two Staten Island hospitals. Since Rep. Donovan’s staff were both new in their roles, participants spent much of the meeting informing them of the bad ideas congressional leaders were pushing and why they are not good for New York and New Yorkers. They seemed engaged on the issues, enjoyed the pie, appreciated the card, and promised to convey our views to Rep. Donovan.