2017-08-16 / Front Page

Sunnyside Community Services Discusses Future Of ACA

By Thomas Cogan

A forum directed at children’s health and how it might be imperiled by the current efforts to alter or eliminate the Affordable Care Act (ACA, better known as Obamacare) was conducted earlier in August at Sunnyside Community Services.  SCC Executive Director Judy Zangwill welcomed speakers from the Office of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit (CAU) and the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) who went over the current benefits for children in Queens and expressed how they will be undermined if anything resembling the “repeal & replace” proposals, over which there was much wrangling in Washington recently, should actually come to pass.  The speakers had proposals of their own concerning what should be done to keep that from happening.

The mayoral CAU representatives were Nick Gulotta, its director for Queens, and Jonathan Soto, who is also executive director of the Center for Faith and Community Partnerships (CFCP), another unit of the mayor’s office.  Gulotta introduced Ben Anderson, director of health policy for the CDF, who made the main presentation, using Children’s Defense Fund materials. 

Anderson began by saying that the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan or CHIP, together cover more than 97 percent of children in the state of New York.   That comprises 54 percent of them who are covered by Medicaid and Child Health Plus, the rest being covered by employer plans or plans bought individually by parents.  He said that 100,000 New York kids gained coverage between 2009 and 2015.  Child Health Plus, which is funded by CHIP, covers kids up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and is the primary provider for children with disabilities.  He said that New York kids on Medicaid, which began in the 1960s as an anti-poverty plan accompanying Medicare but has been expanded over the years, are more likely to become high school graduates than kids in other states who are not on it.

When the Republican-led Congress attempted to repeal President Obama’s ACA this year, the House began by passing the Affordable Health Care Act as a replacement.  Anderson said it was more a tax bill than medical legislation.  The Senate bill was intended to be the Better Care Replacement Act, but amidst the unresolvable conflict that occurred, it was tabled and will not likely be revived in that form.  Anderson said if bipartisan efforts at further medical legislation ensue, any attempts to trim Medicaid and CHIP funding should be resisted.  Don’t suffer any legislator who utters the word “flexibility” when talking about the two, he said; promoting flexibility is just the first step toward making cuts. 

When answering a question from the audience about a single-payer plan, he said to keep in mind that single-payer is unalterably a federal plan.  He said he has heard talk saying that New York, being in relatively good shape with its medical insurance markets, might therefore be able to conduct a single-payer system of its own.  That is a delusion, he warned. 

Single-payer is federal or nothing.  As for the state’s market soundness, he said the repeal/replace activity has spooked providers.  And as for block grants and per capita caps, he said they are less able to respond to healthcare demands if the state, given charge of them under a federal block grant system, is under any fiscal strain.  

Cuts to Medicaid and CHIP would mean for Queens and anywhere else that fewer children would be covered, benefits would be shrunk and families would have to pay more, Anderson said.  He re-emphasized that Medicaid and CHIP should not be part of ACA reduction proposals and that the latter should be renewed for a five-year period.

Soto was looking for volunteers he could recruit to host or attend Neighbor-to-Neighbor sessions, which are a community education initiative aimed at activating persons around issues of concern to them.  He spoke of the CFCP, uniting Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy with community leaders to pool information for the education of those looking to mobilize to resist the diminution of health services.  Soto said he has worked extensively with faith leaders and budding activists and sees September as quite possibly a busy month.


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