A bill that would greatly expand health care coverage to New York residents regardless of their immigration status advanced through a key committee on Wednesday as advocates sought its broader passage in the coming weeks in the state Legislature.
The measure, known as Coverage For All, would create a state-funded health coverage option for New York state residents who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty line and include undocumented residents.
“No New Yorker should be denied health care because of immigration status,” said Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, the measure's sponsor. “New York should be a progressive leader in promoting health equity. Expanding health coverage to undocumented adults is good fiscal and moral policy and I hope we can advance Coverage for All in this year’s budget.”
The bill was approved in the state Assembly Health Committee this week. Lawmakers who support the measure have estimated it would cost more than $500 million if enacted.
“We thank the Assembly Health Committee for showing immigrant New Yorkers that their health and safety is a priority,” said New York Immigration Coalition Executive Director Murad Awawdeh. “I urge the Senate Health committee to swiftly follow suit. State lawmakers have a responsibility to immigrants who put their lives at risk working to keep essential services running throughout the pandemic. New York cannot afford to leave anyone behind in order for the state to rebuild and recover.”
Undocumented immigrants living in New York are among the roughly one million or so state residents who do not have any form of health insurance coverage -- a pool of people in a "last mile" of achieving universal coverage that has significantly shrank in the last decade.
“Every step we take to expand healthcare coverage in our state will make New Yorkers healthier," said Senate Health Comittee Chairman Gustavo Rivera, who sponsors the measure in his chamber. "It is critical that we expand the Essential Plan, to ensure low-income immigrant New Yorkers, who have struggled tremendously during this pandemic, have access to the care they need."
Insurance groups have in recent weeks supported extending health care coverage options to undocumented New Yorkers while business-backed organizations have opposed the creation of a broader single payer program in the state.
"Instead of living in the past, lawmakers should adopt further measures to make affordable, universal coverage a reality, including expanding coverage for low-income undocumented immigrants," said the group Realities of Single Payer, a consortium that has formed to oppose that measure. "By covering the undocumented population and getting the remaining uninsured who are eligible covered, New York could become the first state in the nation to make health care coverage universally available and affordable to all."
Leanne Politi of the New York State Conference of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans says doing so can lead to universal coverage.
"The majority of the uninsured population are undocumented New Yorkers, so by getting them coverage that would get universal coverage in New York," she said.
Immigration advocates like Theo Moore of the New York Immigration Coalition said the pandemic has made health insurance coverage all the more important.
"As we've seen throughout the COVID pandemic, this is really a life and death issue for all New Yorkers," Moore said. "They're our grocery store workers. They're our farm workers. They're working in our hospitals. They're delivery workers. We wouldn't be living so comfortably if it wasn't for immigrant New Yorkers."
It's the latest proposal by lawmakers to aid undocumented New Yorkers, who last year supported the creation of a fund to aid workers not covered by federal pandemic aid. Many of those workers are undocumented.
"It's really up to New York to have New Yorkers' back," Moore said. "We've seen it with the excluded worker fund. We've seen it with health insurance."
But Republicans like state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy say such proposals are misguided.
"The fact that there's a movement in Albany to put special programs in place for undocumented immigrants in place before we've taken care of the needs of so many people who have struggled through the pandemic, who are here legally, that are here as citizens and taxpayers, it just shows you the mistaken priority of Albany Democrats," he said.