New York has a rich history of health care. Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital is considered to be the oldest public hospital in the country. In my neighborhood, Kings County Hospital has been serving patients since 1831. But we can’t let this years-long tradition of care go to waste as Congress makes urgent decisions about access to health care in next year’s budget and Omicron variants are on-the-rise.
All our health facilities have been stretched during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our healthcare heroes, including the hardworking and courageous members of 1199 SEIU and NYSNA, have sacrificed so much. So many of our neighbors have needed care. This long health scare has proven that for any New Yorker, access to meaningful health care is a vital priority. Without it, families are unable to get the care they need, and communities suffer.
When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) earlier this year, it extended a critical federal program that helps our city’s vulnerable populations pay for health insurance. Tax credits in this program help millions of Americans afford this insurance on the federal marketplace—but this relief is not guaranteed.
These expanded subsidies are set to expire and are among the many programs Congress is considering during budget reconciliation. It’s an arcane process with monumental ramifications.
Here’s why: the decision about health care subsidies has a dramatic impact on families across the state. Over the summer, the state announced more than 6 million total New Yorkers were enrolled in marketplace coverage — and that as many as 150,000 state residents were expected to receive tax credits. Last year, more than $550 million in tax credits went to marketplace enrollees in the state.
If subsidies are allowed to expire, premium payments could double for far too many. Like many of the issues regarding healthcare and inequality, this also harms Black, brown, and marginalized communities the most. Put another way: if these subsidies are not made permanent or extended, 174,900 uninsured New Yorkers could lose out on the opportunity to help to pay for affordable coverage, many of those are going to be Black and Brown New Yorkers, disproportionately at risk of suffering from COVID and its many lethal variants.
It’s not much of a decision for Congress in my view. Make the subsidies permanent or leave millions in the lurch who won’t be able to afford care.
When I started out as a community activist at 19 years old, fighting a racist rule that banned Haitian-American people from donating blood, I was taught how to get people’s attention quickly. It’s difficult to engineer change without it, and I learned that the most convincing argument about any cause is also the same for every cause: people are our greatest resource, and people are worth fighting for.
We have fought for so much here in Brooklyn and across our state: increased diversity in key leadership positions, more rights for the underserved, and housing for our neighbors in need.
Along the way, we’ve helped our communities thrive. Throughout Flatbush, I hear people stopping in a bodega for coffee; children have returned to in-person school; teams play basketball during the afternoon at the Parade Grounds nearby. These people are Brooklyn’s greatest resource — and these are the people who are worth fighting for.
The latest COVID-19 figures show New York City still has around 1,000 confirmed daily cases. During the worst of the COVID crisis, most of the ICU beds not only in Central Brooklyn but across New York were at capacity. As the pandemic drags on, our communities continue to need care for a variety of other health conditions.
Accessible, affordable health insurance is and will remain an essential need for the people of our city and state. Congress must not ignore this need — and commit once and for all to the one federal program that helps so many with care.
We know Majority Leader Schumer believes in people and a thriving New York Community, because he’s a progressive leader with a history of successfully fighting for everyday New Yorkers. He’s shown courage and leadership to pass legislation that helps families in our city, in our state, and across the country. We ask him now to continue the fight—and convince his colleagues in the Senate to make these vital health care subsidies permanent in the budget so our communities can continue to thrive.
Rita Joseph is the Councilmember-elect for City Council District 40 in Brooklyn and a teacher at PS 6 Norma Adams Clemons Academy.