WXXI Rochester

By Karen DeWitt

ALBANY, NEW YORK (WXXI)Single payer health care supporters say Governor David Paterson is sitting on a report that finds eliminating the traditional role of the insurance companies from the health system would save $20 billion dollars a year.

The report, originally envisioned by former Governor Eliot Spitzer in 2007 to explore ways to achieve universal health care coverage in New York, was commissioned by the legislature. It was released by the Paterson Administration late on a Friday afternoon, the traditional time to bury news when officials want to avoid attention.

The research, contracted out to the Urban Institute, finds that if New York adopted a single payer health care system, the savings would total $20 billion dollars a year by 2019. Mark Dunlea, with the advocacy group Hunger Action Network, says the state, through a waiver granted by Congress, does have the authority to set up a single payer health system. And he predicts it would succeed in covering the 16% percent of New Yorkers who are currently uninsured, as well as bring down costs for those who have coverage.

“Single payer we know works, because one, we have Medicare,” said Dunlea, referring to the government- run single payer system for elderly Americans. “And then we have all these models from around the rest of the world”. He says every other major industrialized nation has a one- payer health care system.

Governor Paterson was an advocate of the single payer system when he was a State Senator, but lately has said little about it. His aides say the governor wants to see what Congress puts in place first to reform health care before New York takes any action.

President Obama and Congress are working toward a plan that would have a public component, in the form of a health insurance exchange. Participating insurers would in theory offer health coverage to individuals at the lower group rate. The plan is also likely to mandate that all Americans buy health coverage or pay a penalty.

Though President Obama was also a supporter of a single payer system when he was a Senator, he now says it’s better to try to improve the system we have, rather than start from scratch.

Pat Reed, a nurse practitioner who supports single payer, predicts those designs will be in fiscal crisis within a few years. She points to the experience in Massachusetts, which has mandated health coverage for a couple of years now. She says it’s been hard for individuals to actually find affordable health care plans to buy.

“In my opinion, we will again have another health care bail out to look forward to,” Reed said.

The State Assembly’s Health Committee Chair, Richard Gottfried, has offered an alternative plan that would automatically enroll all New Yorkers in the government run Family Health Plus program. Employers would be allowed to opt out to offer private insurance, and would receive a tax subsidy.

The report by the Urban Institute does say there are some potential problems with converting to a single payer plan. For one thing, it says, there currently are not enough primary care doctors to cover everyone. The report’s authors seem to favor a public private partnership that would bring down exorbitant rates for individual health coverage plans.

The single payer advocates say they’d like to meet with the governor’s top health care advisors to discuss the report, but both of those top aides, Joe Baker and Dennis Whalen, have left in recent weeks.

Dunlea says if he were a betting man, he’d say the odds are against New York adopting a single payer plan any time soon. But he says it has a better chance of happening in the State of California, where the legislature has passed a measure twice only to be vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Schwarzenegger is term limited, and will be leaving office by the end of next year.