In January, the Campaign for New York Health made single payer history in the United States: the bill secured the support of a majority of co-sponsors in both chambers of the New York State legislature. Campaign organizers Ursula Rozum and YuLing Koh Hsu join us to discuss how NY got here and the very real chance to win Medicare for all at the state level!
The Campaign for New York Health recently achieved a huge majority of cosponsors of the New York Health Act in the State Assembly and a narrow majority in the State Senate, so this week Ben and Stephanie speak with co-directors YuLing Koh Hsu and Ursula Rozum about their work over the last several years leading to this milestone.
They discuss the early days of the work, the broad coalition they’ve assembled, and the story-based organizing and lobbying that has been key to their success.
In New York, the people who are impacted by the healthcare system the most are leading the movement, including patients, families, and small business owners who can’t afford healthcare coverage. Everyone is an expert on their own experience with the healthcare system, and New York’s story-driven strategy focuses on real people to build the grassroots demand that’s necessary to pass major legislation.
Predictably, the insurance industry is actively opposed to the New York Health Act, relying on the usual arguments that the legislation will raise their taxes. It’s important to remember that they are making billions on the status quo, and their arguments all need to be viewed through the lens that they will say anything – true or false – to maintain their control over care and ability to make profits.
Even with a majority in the Assembly and Senate, the last step of passing the New York Health Act is going to be the hardest. The next step for New York is to organize legislative co-sponsors to become vocal supporters of the bill. The new legislators elected in 2020 are bringing a bold, progressive approach to the work, and the campaign will focus on moving more legislators from being passive co-sponsors to active champions of the bill who will demand a vote from the Speaker of the Assembly and Leader of the Senate.
YuLing discusses their campaign’s theory of change: to build a long term, mass movement that can not only pass legislation, including financing, but will also do the hard work to make sure the Act works for the people it was built for.
Ursula stresses the importance of understanding that the American failure to pass a national health system has roots in systemic racism; white supremacist opposition to a desegregated health system killed early attempts to pass national healthcare, and compromises in the creation of Medicare and Medicaid allowed Southern states to discriminate against patients of color. Our current profit-driven healthcare system continues to reinforce racial hierarchies. The lesson today is that programs and policies intended to marginalize people of color end up hurting everyone, and a multi-racial, anti-racist healthcare movement is necessary to move the United States toward a just healthcare system.
(For more, see Healthcare NOW’s video, “The Politics of Race and Medicare for All: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eN0KhJ3BoI.)
Ursula and YuLing urge other state healthcare movements to focus on the long-term fight, building leaders, and using stories as the foundation of the work. There are no shortcuts to organizing; building a base and a strong leadership has to happen before a bill can pass.
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