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De Blasio to Unveil Health Care Plan for Undocumented and Low-Income New Yorkers

Originally Published in The New York Times.

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to spend $100 million on care for undocumented immigrants and other New Yorkers who cannot qualify for insurance.CreditCreditBenjamin Norman for The New York Times

By J. David Goodman 

Jan. 8, 2019

New York City will spend $100 million to provide health care for undocumented immigrants and others who cannot qualify for insurance, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday morning, seeking to insert a city policy into two contentious national debates.

The mayor has styled himself, in his 2017 re-election campaign and during his second term, as a progressive leader on issues like health care and as a bulwark against the policies of President Trump, particularly on immigration.

In making the announcement on national television, Mr. de Blasio appeared to be trying to heighten that contrast and thrust his efforts on behalf of undocumented New Yorkers into the national debate over immigration, hours before Mr. Trump was to go on television Tuesday night to make his case for a border wall.

The mayor was expected to provide details at a news conference later in the morning at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.

The announcement on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” comes as the newly Democrat-controlled State Legislature in Albany is weighing some form of universal health insurance for New York State. The mayor’s office was quick to say their plan, to be called NYC Care, would not be a substitute for any universal health care at the state level or a national single-payer plan. But, aides said, it was something the city could do immediately and on its own.

Indeed, NYC Care would be a mix of insurance and direct spending. The city already has a kind of public option for health insurance for low-income New Yorkers, through an insurance plan run by city hospitals and known as MetroPlus.

The NYC Care plan would improve that coverage, which already insures some 516,000 people, and aim to reach more of those who are eligible, such as the young and uninsured, and others who qualify but have not applied.

It would also provide direct city spending, about $100 million per year when fully implemented, on those without insurance, including undocumented immigrants, who already can receive care at the emergency rooms of city-run hospitals.

“Healthcare is a right, not a privilege reserved for those who can afford it,” Mayor de Blasio said.

Details of how those seeking care could do so under the new plan were not immediately clear. The city said last week that an ambitious goal of providing MetroCards to about 800,000 residents whose incomes are below the federal poverty line would start this month with cards for only about 30,000 people, or about four percent of the total.

“This is the city paying for direct comprehensive care (not just E.R.s) for people who can’t afford it, or can’t get comprehensive Medicaid — including 300,000 undocumented New Yorkers,” the mayor’s spokesman, Eric Phillips, wrote on Twitter.

The city’s hospital system has been under severe financial strain and running deficits for years. Part of the idea NYC Care, aides to the mayor said, was to ease that burden while providing better health care to New Yorkers.

The current financial plan for city hospitals projects budget shortfalls of over $156 million in 2018, increasing to $1.8 billion in 2022, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.

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