On Sunday, Jan. 13, while I was running on the treadmill at the gym, I saw Mayor Bill de Blasio on CNN basking in almost god-like status. On “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” de Blasio reiterated an announcement that he made earlier in the week on MSNBC, that he would spend $100 million on healthcare for poor and undocumented New Yorkers who currently lack health insurance.
If de Blasio is serious about improving public health and burnishing his progressive credentials, he should focus on what he actually has authority over: the health and safety of public housing residents.
I almost broke my stride, delirious with joy because it seemed our mayor had somehow delivered on a goal that many believe to be too expensive, extremely complicated and politically infeasible: universal healthcare. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of the Washington ‘swamp,’ de Blasio looked like the savior we have been expecting from the new Democrats who are pushing the party to the progressive left.
But after my workout — with normal breathing and more oxygen to the brain — I realized that his announcement was just political theater.
The sum of $100 million may sound like a lot, but if you do the math it is simply chump change, amounting to a paltry $167 a person a year for the 600,000 uninsured New Yorkers de Blasio’s NYC Care program will target. This is not nearly enough to cover these patients, many of whom who have lacked primary care for years.
Additionally, this money is really only allocated for premiums, which are intended to support the public hospital system in New York City, Health + Hospitals (H+H). Under this plan, de Blasio is merely expanding healthcare coverage by subsidizing the healthcare premiums for individuals who have not bought into Obamacare healthcare plans. Expanding Obamacare is not the same as creating a single-payer healthcare system, which would provide all New Yorkers to a broader array of essential medical services financed by a single public authority.
Putting our faith into H+H, which is known for bleeding money, may burn us in the end. Yes, it is not a bad idea to steer the newly insured to H+H clinics for comprehensive and preventative care than expensive emergency room visits, but these already burdened clinics need more resources than de Blasio has promised if they are to really be effective.
H+H has been cash-starved ever since Gov. Andrew Cuomo instituted healthcare cuts through the Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT). MRT made cuts to Medicaid payments that had been a financial lifeline for safety net hospitals in New York City. However well intended, de Blasio’s $100 million is not enough money to replace what Cuomo cut from our public hospitals, nor is it enough to make our public hospital system solvent.
And let’s not forget politics. De Blasio needs something to make him look good. He has been under fire for the lead poisoning crisis in public housing, pay-to-play corruption trials involving his administration and his support for policies that are spurring hyper-gentrification across the city.
If de Blasio is serious about improving public health and burnishing his progressive credentials, he should focus on what he actually has authority over: the health and safety of public housing residents, who suffer from exposure to toxic mold and lead paint, and who frequently lack heating in their apartments. Why doesn’t he take the $1.3 billion he is giving Amazon and use it to jump start NYCHA repairs.
Saving the public housing system that was created as a New Deal promise during the Great Depression would do more for his progressive legacy than a healthcare promise that barely achieves what is it touted to be.
Photo: Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his sixth State of the City address on Jan. 10. Credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.