Half those 600,000 residents aided by NYC Care are undocumented immigrants

John Bacon

The comprehensive health care plan ceremoniously unveiled by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this week drew lots of applause from the Democrat's supporters but also is drawing skepticism from voices in his city who question the true value and cost of the effort.

De Blasio says NYC Care, starting in the Bronx and phased in across the city's five boroughs, will provide primary and specialty care from pediatric to geriatric to 600,000 uninsured New Yorkers. De Blasio estimated the annual cost at $100 million.

"This is the city paying for direct comprehensive care (not just ERs) for people who can’t afford it, or can’t get comprehensive Medicaid - including 300,000 undocumented New Yorkers," Eric Phillips, spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, boasted on Twitter.

State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican representing parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, immediately criticized the proposal as an example of de Blasio using city coffers "like his personal ATM."

"How about instead of giving free healthcare to 300,000 citizens of other countries, you lower property taxes for our senior citizens who are being forced to sell the homes they’ve lived in for decades because they can’t afford to pay your 44 percent increased in property taxes?" she said.

In this file photo of March 16, 2010, patients await treatment in the busy emergency room at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York.

Seth Barron, associate editor of City Journal and project director of the NYC Initiative at the Manhattan Institute think tank, noted that the city's uninsured, including undocumented residents, can receive treatment on demand at city hospitals. The city already pays more than $8 billion to treat 1.1 million people through its New York City Health + Hospitals program, he wrote.

Barron said the mayor is simply trying to shift patients away from the emergency room and into clinics. He noted that dividing $100 million by 600,000 people comes to about $170 per person, about the equivalent of one doctor visit.

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"Clearly, the money that the mayor is assigning to this new initiative is intended for outreach, to convince people to go to the city’s already-burdened public clinics instead of waiting until they get sick enough to need an emergency room," Barron wrote. "That’s fine, as far as it goes, but as a transformative, revolutionary program, it resembles telling people to call the Housing Authority if they need an apartment and then pretending that the housing crisis has been solved."

The plan expands upon the city's MetroPlus public option plan, as well as the state's exchange through the federal Affordable Care Act. NYC Care patients will be issued cards allowing them access to medical services, de Blasio said. 

The mayor's plan has plenty of support. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said the plan will help his agency "give all New Yorkers the quality care they deserve.” State Sen. James Sanders Jr., who represents parts of Queens, said he looks forward "to seeing the Care NYC program grow and prosper as it helps to create a healthier New York.”

And the drumbeat for improved access to health care is not limited to New York.

On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked Congress and the White House to empower states to develop "a single-payer health system to achieve universal coverage, contain costs, and promote quality and affordability."

On Tuesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proposed Cascade Care, a public option plan under his state's health-insurance exchange.

"We’re going to do all we can to protect health care for Washingtonians," he said. "This public option will ensure consumers in every part of the state will have an option for high-quality, affordable coverage.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Half those 600,000 residents aided by NYC Care are undocumented immigrants