Chairman’s Report re: Single Payer Health Care

June 28, 2019

As New York State’s 2019 legislative session has come to a close, I write to update you on NYSPEC’s efforts on one of the most important issues we dealt with this year.

At our Annual Convention last year, we discussed, at considerable length, proposed legislation (A4738-A – Assemblyman Gottfried /S4840-A – Senator Rivera) known as the “New York health act”, which essentially proposed a universal “single-payer” health plan for New York State.  The legislation would establish a state-run taxpayer-funded global health plan intended to replace all (except that which is provided by the Veterans Administration) existing health insurance, both public and private.  In place of insurance premiums, which would be eliminated, this larger and more generous system would be financed through additional taxes collected by the state government.

At the time of these discussions, the sponsors had already acquiesced to the fact that significant concerns had been raised by stakeholders, including unions, about the legislation.  As a result, they indicated that amendments would be forthcoming in the 2019 legislative session.  Having passed the assembly many times over the years, and, with the impending Democratic takeover of the senate, and a now-majority sponsor in the senate who would in all likelihood become chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Health, the pending emergence of sweeping change to health care and health insurance coverage became of paramount concern to our members.

We wanted to address this issue somewhere in our 2019legislative agenda.  However, because all our member units at that time were not in agreement as to whether to support or oppose this legislation or its concept, we agreed to add the following language, formulated by NYSPEC Co-Counsel Rich Mulvaney, to the bullet points in the “We Oppose” section in the booklet to be produced for our 2019 AnnualLegislative Breakfast: “Any legislation which circumvents, converts, and/or nullifies hard-fought gains to health care coverage obtained through collective bargaining”.

I assured all of you that PEC would stay on top of this issue, and we have.  I appointedTreasurer Joe Mannion and Recording Secretary Rich Wells as co-chairs of the special“Health Care Committee”, and added member Gloria Middleton, President of CWALocal 1180.   As this is, for the most part, a legislative issue, I formed this as a sub-committee of the LegislativeCommittee.   I write to bring you up to date on the process PEC has gone through involving this ill-written legislation, the end result of which, in its previous and current iterations, would be the annihilation of hard-earned union contracts that historically-provided negotiated health benefits as part of the overall employer costs in wages and benefits.

On January 22, I attended a conference, entitled, “TakingSingle-Payer Seriously” at the University Club in Albany, hosted by BillHammond, Health Policy Director of the Empire Center for Public Policy.  It was clear from the outset that Assemblyman Gottfried and Senator Rivera were making this legislation their number one priority.  Also clear was the fact that, when questions were posed to them, neither could fully explain the legislation as written.  PEC's Recording SecretaryRichard Wells was in attendance as well, and he asked the single most important question, “What would the cost be? ”;the best the sponsors could offer in response was that the cost was “to be determined”.  They were told by many of us in attendance that they could not expect us to support such far-reaching legislation without knowing what its cost would be.  Make no mistake about it, the sponsors of this legislation knew that NYSPEC was opposed to it, yet they chose to not engage us to ascertain what our concerns were.

In February, not long after our annual LegislativeBreakfast, the sponsors introduced the latest iteration of the New York health act, now numbered A5248 / S3577.  While there were changes made from the previous version, the fact remained that there were, substantively, too many unanswered questions.  

The sponsors scheduled a public hearing on the bill forTuesday, May 28, in Albany.  The scheduled date was rather interesting, since it was the morning after MemorialDay, which was not a legislative session day! Perhaps they were hopeful that those in opposition would not attend.

At the meeting of our Legislative Directors one week earlier, on Tuesday, May 21, we had agreed that PEC would oppose the new iteration of the legislation because the same unanswered questions and danger to the collective bargaining agreements of our member units remained.

Armed with the membership’s approval to oppose, I submitted my name on behalf of PEC in a timely fashion (via email, as directed) to be included to testify at the hearing.  In ever received a response confirming my notice of intent to testify.  So, as I had promised the members in attendance at our May meeting that I would, I headed to Albany in the early morning on the date of the hearing under the assumption that I would be testifying.  I guess it should not have come as a surprise when I arrived at the hearing that I was told I was not on the list of speakers to testify! Naturally, I voiced my resentment somewhat vociferously upon seeing the list of scheduled speakers, stating that I believed the entire process was rigged in favor of the bills’ proponents, as there were just a few opposition groups included out of the approximately 50 listed speakers.  Further, I questioned why I was not afforded the common courtesy of a response to my request, and the only (lame) excuse proffered was that they had “too many” speakers!  All my protest did was cause them to take my name again and tell me I might be added to the end of the list, but that eventuality was solely at the discretion of the sponsors.  Those who know me well can guess that none of this sat well with me.  I was livid over the entire process and believed that NYSPEC had been deliberately left off the testimony list.

Present with me at the hearing were PEC Recording SecretaryRich Wells, Legislative Chair Bing Markee, and Co-Counsel Rich Mulvaney, who, as you know, also serves as counsel to Senator Diane Savino.  Fran Turner, Director of Legislative andPolitical Action for the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), was alerted to our dilemma, and most graciously offered to allow NYSPEC to testify alongside her and Ed Farrell, Executive Director of the Retired PublicEmployees Association (RPEA).  (The two of them had been grouped together to testify as a panel of two, without their knowledge or request.)  Unfortunately, this development had to be cleared with the chairs of the hearing panel.  Rich Mulvaney alerted Senator Savino, who promptly got clearance for me to testify on the panel with CSEA and RPEA.  Were it not for the intercession of Senator Savino, I would not have been allowed to speak that day on behalf ofNYSPEC.  You have all heard me say, time and time again, that Senator Savino, who came out of the labor movement, has never abandoned labor; she clearly remains one of our most vocal champions.

Aside from Senator Savino, I want to name the following legislators on the joint committee who were clearly in labor’s corner on this important issue:  Senators John Liu andPatrick Gallivan, Assemblymen Andrew Raia, Andrew Garbarino and Kevin Byrne.

Attached is NYSPEC’s written testimony, which was submitted for the record at the hearing, and which will give you more insight as to the many problems that exist in this legislation. However, my verbal testimony differed significantly from the written primarily because, while I was waiting to speak, I heard many opinions from the bills’ proponents  – both legislators and those testifying in favor – and I wanted to direct my verbal testimony to counter many of those issues.

Fran Turner of CSEA gave an excellent presentation highlighting many reasons labor is opposed to this legislation.  Ed Farrell of RPEA spoke very well on behalf of his retired members.  You may view our panel’s almost-one-hour oral testimony through this link ...

... commencing at time stamp 4:50:10 and concluding at timestamp 5:47:30.

On conclusion of the proceeding, and upon hearing from legislators on the panel and many opponents at the hearing with me, it was established that I came off very forcefully and highlighted many reasons to substantiate PEC’s opposition.  At one point it appeared that the legislators in favor of the bill directed all their questions to me, and it should be noted that there was very little support in the audience for labor.

I feel very good about my presentation, and confident thatAssemblyman Gottfried and Senator Rivera are now fully aware of the strength ofNYSPEC and how strongly we oppose this legislation.  I was told that some of the legislators felt that I embarrassed them.  However, it is my opinion that if they really felt that way, then they embarrassed themselves by not bringing labor to the table and including us in the process.  When I was asked by Senator Rivera if I would be willing to discuss this further with him, I, of course, responded in the affirmative.  However, it is apparent tome that we were never even a thought in their mind when they started pushing this bill, so I will not hold my breath waiting for them to seek our input.  I told them, quite plainly, that they need to negotiate before they legislate.

As you can well imagine, the single-payer issue is not going away, and we must be extra vigilant going forward.  One of the political bloggers in Albany wrote the following on the issue: “ ... Democrats in the Legislature who support the plan are almost certain to try again next year. Bill sponsors are holding a series of public hearings on the issue and tout the bill, which has been changed and rewritten after a report estimated a previous version would double the size of the state budget, but also bring down health care costs for New Yorkers. A single-payer bill is perhaps the biggest concept plan state lawmakers can think of ...”

I’m certain that this issue will be one of the major topics of discussion at our upcoming annual meeting in December, and you can rest assured that NYSPEC is on it!

In Unity,

Peter D. Meringolo, Chairman

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