Sitting in front of a banner that read, “Health care is a right,” Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan on Tuesday to provide health care to all New Yorkers through a new program called NYC Care.
Through this initiative, the mayor said, every New York City resident will have a card listing their primary care doctor by name, with direct access to NYC Health + Hospitals’ physicians, pharmacies and mental health and substance abuse services.
“For too many New Yorkers, they live in fear. They live in fear of getting sick, they don’t know where to turn, they don’t know how they’re going to afford health care,” de Blasio said, speaking from Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. “About 600,000 New Yorkers do not have any health care coverage at all. That’s as many people that live in the entire city of Milwaukee or Baltimore.”
For those New Yorkers, an emergency room visit has become the “default” for receiving care, officials said.
NYC Care will help avert emergency room visits and hospitalizations, helping avoid more expensive public costs, officials said, by offering less expensive primary and preventative care to those who previously did not have it.
“It’s very significant that you chose to do this at Lincoln Hospital, which is among the 10 busiest emergency rooms in the United States,” Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said to the mayor. “People will now be able to have their own doctor, be able to be seen in primary care, and only come to the emergency room when that level of care is needed.”
The current wait time for a primary care appointment in New York City is within a week, said Katz. As more residents join NYC Care, he said, officials will maintain that, making primary care appointments accessible within one to two weeks.
NYC Care: Who now gets health care in New York City?
The Affordable Care Act helped get 8 million New Yorkers health insurance, but the remaining residents without health care either can’t afford it, have been unable to navigate the exchange or are undocumented.
Now, all those New Yorkers will be covered under NYC Care for both physical and mental health care.
“For those who can afford it, they will pay on a sliding scale. For those who can’t afford anything, care will be for free,” de Blasio said. “Those are New York City are values: no one gets turned away.”
This effort will begin immediately with officials increasing enrollment efforts through MetroPlus, New York City’s public health insurance option. It will take about two years for NYC Care to get to “full strength,” de Blasio said, with more customer service efforts built out over that time period. The program will cost at least $100 million at full scale.
Residents can call MetroPlus or 311 to get connected to health care in New York City. A direct number for NYC Care will come at a later date.
This is a health care change that should “ideally” come out of Washington or Albany, de Blasio said, but New Yorkers need guaranteed health care coverage now.
“I strongly support a single payer bill that’s going to be considered in Albany this spring,” he added. Speaking to the national push for universal health care, he said that, “I think by New York City acting, the biggest city in the country acting, it’s actually going to create momentum for bigger changes.”