Gather and disseminate information, as needed, about the structure, functions and initiatives at the county, state and national levels of our health care system. Track the progress of key legislative bills, with action alerts in accordance with League Positions. Advise membership of other groups working to improve health care; make recommendations regarding cooperating with other groups and/or cosponsoring their events.
The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the proliferation of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons in the United States is a major health and safety threat to its citizens. The League supports strong federal measures to limit the accessibility and regulate the ownership of these weapons by private citizens. The League supports regulating firearms for consumer safety.
The League supports licensing procedures for gun ownership by private citizens to include a waiting period for a background check, personal identity verification, gun safety education, and annual license renewal. The license fee should be adequate to bear the cost of education and verification.
The League supports a ban on "Saturday night specials," enforcement of strict penalties for the improper possession of and crimes committed with handguns and assault weapons, and allocations of resources to better regulate and monitor gun dealers.
The League acknowledges that the U.S. Supreme Court and the lower federal courts have ruled consistently that the Second Amendment confers a right to keep and bear arms only in connection with service in a well-regulated militia--known today as the National Guard. LWVUS' Statement of Position on Gun Control, as Adopted by 1990 Convention and amended by the 1994 and 1998 conventions: (LWVUS Impact on Issues, 2010-2012, p. 77)
Recent League Activity Two recent Supreme Court cases make it clear that the Second Amendment protects the individual's right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia, and to use the firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
In the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held that the District's gun control act, the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, violated the Second Amendment insofar as it banned handgun possession in the home and required that any lawful firearm be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock while in the home. In issuing its opinion, the Court noted that the Second Amendment right was not unlimited. It does not provide a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld. The Court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
In 2010, the Supreme Court extended the Second Amendment rights articulated in Heller to state attempts to ban and/or regulate guns. In McDonald v. Chicago, the Court held that the right of an individual to "keep and bear arms" protected by the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the states.
The League anticipates that these two Supreme Court opinions will engender additional litigation, as individuals attempt to further define the both the scope of the Second Amendment right and the ability of the state to limit that right. In January 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, the legislature passed and Governor Cuomo signed into law the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (NY SAFE Act, A2388/S2230). Among the NY SAFE Act provisions are universal background checks on gun purchases, increased penalties for people who use illegal guns, mandated life imprisonment without parole for anyone who murders a first responder, and an assault weapons ban. The bill was passed using a message of necessity. The League joined its good government partners in praising the public safety goal of the anti-gun violence legislation, but criticized the use of a message of necessity, pointing out that the public interest is best served when public policy making includes robust public discussion and a transparent legislative process.
Past League Activity Several bills (introduced by Assemblyman Silver and Senator Volker) to increase the penalties for firearms infractions were supported by the League, passed by the 1991 legislature, and signed into law by Governor Cuomo. The League actively lobbied in support of a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Koppell and Senator Frank Padavan to restrict the ownership of certain assault weapons. This legislation passed the Assembly during the 1993 session but was not addressed in the Senate.
During both the 1994 and 1995 legislative sessions, the assault weapons bill, now sponsored by Assemblywoman Matusow, passed the Assembly, but was not addressed by the Senate. LWVNYS supported this legislation because passage at the state level will allow local prosecutors to enforce the restrictions in state courts. During the 1998 legislative session due primarily to the school shootings across the country there was renewed interest within the legislature to address gun safety where it pertains to children and guns. Late in the 1998 session, legislation was introduced by Assembly member Naomi Matusow that would require child safety locks on all guns sold in New York State. The League supports this legislation under the LWVUS position on violence prevention. This billed passed the Assembly but was not addressed in the state Senate.
Again, in the 1999 legislative session, the League lobbied for the Matusow legislation and joined with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence in a coalition involving several groups around the issue of child safety and school violence. Following the Littleton Colorado violence and close on the heals of other school shootings across the nation the League lobbied for better restrictions of gun shows and background checks on weapons sold at gun shows and flea markets. School violence legislation passed the Assembly but was again not addressed in the state Senate.
The League had worked for several years in coalition with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence to pass sensible gun laws. Both houses of the legislature passed the Governor's bill and it went into effect on January 1, 2001. This comprehensive legislation will:
1. Establish criminal sanctions for possession and sale of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices;
2. Requires that a gun locking device be provided when a rifle, shotgun or firearm is sold at retail;
3. Establishes a NYS ballistics identification databank;
4. Requires all sales at gun shows to be subject to a background check;
5. Establishes a minimum age of 21 yrs. for purchase of handguns;
6. Establishes a funded gun trafficking interdiction program;
7. Authorizes a study of the availability and effectiveness of existing technology for use of smart guns.
The League joined with the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence coalition in support of strengthening legislation to revoke firearms to individuals who have violated an order of protection which would change the standard from one "serious physical to "physical injury" which is easier to prove. The legislation did not pass during the 2001-2003 sessions. However, in December 2005 the Governor called the legislature back into special session to deal with violence against police officers. Following a three-way agreement the legislature passed legislation to increase the penalties for killing a "peace officer" to life without parole. Legislation was also passed to increase the penalties for illegal gun use.
During the session of 2006/2007 the Assembly again passed legislation to provide child safety locks on all handguns in New York State. This same legislation was not addressed in the Senate. Legislation was also passed in the Assembly both sessions to ban the use of a fifty caliber machine gun, again this legislation was never addressed in the Senate.
On December 16th, Madeline Zevon, delivered the official LWVNYS testimony at the NYS Assembly hearing in New York City on the New York health bill to create single-payer health care coverage in New York State. Madeline serves as chair of the Health Committees of the League of Women Voters of New York State and the League of Women Voters of Westchester and is a member of the League of Women Voters of White Plains.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, drew a large crowd of more than sixty speakers, mainly doctor, nurses, social workers, unions, patients and insurance executives. The prevailing view was that the Affordable Care Act has not gone far enough in ameliorating the unwieldy system of health insurance. There are a majority of co-sponsors in the Assembly and when it is brought to the floor for a vote in the next session (Jan. - June), it will probably pass, but it stands almost no chance in the Senate. Still, it's a step forward.
You can view the statements delivered at the hearing by clicking here. Madeline spoke second in a full day of testimonies.
Access to affordable, quality health care is pivotal in determining the quality of life for New Yorkers. The League has advocated on behalf of all New Yorkers for over 20 years on the issues of health care, and has lobbied and testified on numerous bills that safeguard public access to health. The League believes that affordable, quality health care should be available to all New York State residents and that health care policies should include equitable distribution of services and the efficient and economical delivery of care.
First, I will focus on the issues of equity, and then address efficiency and cost control. Equitable distribution of services means that individuals should have access to a basic level of care regardless of income, age, health status, geographical location, or any other factor. As long as private health insurance corporations are the middleman between patients and providers, services will not be distributed in an equitable manner. Persons who are less likely to need care will have greater access to coverage, while those who are in need will go without.
The Affordable Care Act has gone far in mitigating some of the shortcomings of private-for-profit insurance, such as refusing coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions and imposing annual lifetime limits, What's happening now that the ACA is unfolding, there's a lot of cost shifting to the consumer with high deductibles and co-pays. Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, there were 2.9 million New Yorkers uninsured. However, even when the plan is fully implemented according to the Urban Institute of New York, there will be 1.675 million New Yorkers still uninsured. The Affordable Care Act is not a universal plan.
The League opposes a strictly private market-based model of financing the health care system. We believe that the way to achieve substantial and lasting reductions in the cost of care is to adopt a universal single-payer system such as New York Health. Health care does not fit the market model. By consolidating responsibility and thus accountability for health care into a single-payer system, we will be better positioned to achieve quality health care for all.
In a single-payer system of publicly financed, privately delivered health care for all New York State residents, citizens will decide the level of basic care. Under this system, the long-term health of each person is valued equally. If we opt to cover effective wellness and disease prevention programs now, we will spend less in later years. It will make more sense for us as a group to pay for regular dental care now in order to avoid more costly procedures later in life.
Under the single-payer model, coverage for disease prevention and health promotion programs and services will also make good economic sense. Private health insurers are not motivated to achieve long-term benefits in health status, especially with the employer-based system. The pool of participants in a given plan is transient, individuals change plans as they change employers, and besides, it is all too easy to drop coverage if the costs get too high. The existing system is too shortsighted to make substantial commitment to prevention and wellness programs.
The League supports the standardization of basic levels of service for publically funded health care programs as a step toward equity. Under the single-payer model, every New York resident would be eligible to enroll. There would be no premiums, deductibles, or co-payment. Coverage would be funded based on ability to pay through a progressively graduated state payroll tax. Federal funds now received for Medicare, Medicaid, Family Health Plus and Child Health Plus would be combined with state revenue in a New York Health Trust Fund. The "local share" of Medicaid funding--a major burden on local property taxes--would be ended. It is projected that New York State would save $20 billion by 2019 under a single-payer system according to the Urban Institute. All New Yorkers would be covered for all medically necessary services, including: primary preventive, specialists, hospital, mental health, reproductive health care, dental, vision, prescription drug, and medical supply costs - more comprehensive than commercial health plans.
Over 2,000 New Yorkers die each year because they do not have adequate health insurance coverage according to Physicians for a National Health Program. After the ACA is fully implemented, based on the number of additionally insured, the estimate would drop to about 1500 death per year. Here in New York we have the opportunity to lead the way in implementing cost-effective, universal health care, effectively making health care a right for all New Yorkers.
Thank you for this opportunity to share our views with you.
Op Ed published in the Journal News on February 19, 2013, written by Madeline Zevon, vice president of the White Plains League of Women Voters and a member of the LWV of Westchester Health Committee.
The recession has been taking a toll on New York businesses, but it isn't the only thing ailing us; the high cost of health care and the lack of access to care dog businesses and individuals. Here is a commentary from the League of Women Voters on single-payer national health insurance, a leading solution to the cost and accessibility problems plaguing health care in New York, where an estimated 1 in 6 people lacks insurance.
What is single payer? It refers to the administration of health-care funds by one payer, rather than by the current multiple insurance companies. This payer would be the federal government. Think of single payer as enhanced and improved Medicare for all. The League of Women Voters of Westchester, New York state and the U.S. League all advocate for single-payer health care.
Can we afford covering the 47 million uninsured and the 50 million underinsured nationwide? Yes, we can. Currently insurance companies have an overhead of approximately 30 percent, which is spent on marketing, administration, shareholders dividends and exorbitant CEO salaries. Medicare's overhead is approximately 3 percent. We could save about $350 billion annually, enough to cover the 47 million uninsured and the 50 million underinsured. Both the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office say the U.S. could insure everyone for the money we're paying now to insure seniors only.
Is this socialized medicine? No, it is not. With socialized medicine, doctors and hospitals are owned by the government. As with Medicare, hospitals would be semi-private just as they are now, and doctors would be in private practice just as they are now. Single payer would replace the costly, inefficient system of private insurance. Paperwork would be greatly reduced because there would be only one entity to deal with.
Fifty-nine percent of physicians support legislation to establish national health insurance; 65 percent of Americans agree that the U.S. should adopt a program like Medicare for all. We spend twice as much on health care as other industrialized nations, and they cover all of their population. Every other industrialized country in the world has national health insurance. We are the only country that uses private, for-profit insurance to finance health care for the majority of our population.
Do we need to improve our current Medicare system? Yes, we do. Medicare is suffering financially because of the intrusion of private health-maintenance organizations, which were initially put into place as a cost-effective system, but were actually less cost effective. HMOs are subsidized by the government, cherry-pick healthy patients, and yet their costs are 12 percent more than traditional Medicare. This system costs the taxpayers $15 billion a year.
Each year, half of all personal bankruptcies are caused by medical bills, and 75 percent of those bankrupted were insured when they got sick. Insurance premiums go up each year for policies that cover less and less. The goal of insurance companies is to make a profit for their shareholders and CEOs.
All of these issues obviously affect residents of the Lower Hudson Valley and New York. More and more groups are petitioning for single payer:
- The Westchester division of the League of Women Voters has a very active group working on this issue.
- Single Payer New York, an Albany group, has urged President Barack Obama to reject a Massachusetts-style plan and it urged Gov. David Paterson to provide leadership for single payer.
- In the Legislature, dozens of lawmakers in both the Assembly and Senate have sponsored single-payer legislation.
- Physicians for a National Health Program, a group of more than 15,000 physicians nationally and more than 1,000 from the New York metro area, has actively campaigned for single payer for several years. It is estimated that today's physician spends about one-third of his or her time satisfying insurance company regulations and seeking approval for treatment, time that could be better spent with patients.
- Single payer would save New York $5 billion annually in administrative waste. The government already pays for a significant proportion of our health care. Since 60 percent of our health-care system is financed by public money - Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs and insurance for public employees. It makes sense to expand this coverage for all.
Major stumbling blocks are the drug and insurance companies. These industries spend more than any other industry lobbying Congress. They succeeded in making Medicare part D a windfall for drug companies. Both former Sen. Hillary Clinton and President Obama have said in the past that single payer makes the most sense but is not "politically feasible" at this time. The flaw in both their proposed health-care reforms (as seen during their respective campaigns) is that they involve insurance companies in the system, making reform financially unaffordable. This approach is not viable, as numerous state-based experiments have shown. Such plans fail because of the cost.
All we need is the political will.
Addendum: A bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives by Rep. John Conyers, HR676, that would provide for a single payer system that would provide coverage for all primary and preventive health care, prescripton drugs, mental health services, dentistry, eye care, substance abuse treatment and long term care. There are no co-pays or deductibles. The bill has 92 supporters in the House. It is important that we contact members of the House to support this bill.
The writer is vice president of the White Plains League of Women Voters and a member of the LWV of Westchester Health Committee.
Two community forums with a theme of "Health Care is a Human Right, "coordinated by the League of Women Voters Westchester with several cosponsoring groups, will be held on Thursday nights, October 13 and 20, at 7 p.m. at the Lubin Graduate School of Pace University, 1 Martine Ave. (at Bank Street) in White Plains. Both events are free and do not require preregistration. The October 13 program, entitled "Everybody In; Nobody Out/Medicare for All" features Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, sponsor of the New York State Assembly single payer bill, and Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, from Physicians for a National Health Program, and will focus on the benefits and possibilities of single payer care.
The October 20 program, "Understanding the Federal Affordable Care Act," features Assemblyman George Latimer, and Charles Bell, from Consumers Union, who will discuss portions of the act which have taken effect and what needs to be established, particularly the state level exchanges. Both forums will encourage audience questions.
Cosponsors of the program are the National Association of Social Workers; Physicians for a National Health Program, NY Metro Chapter; Access to Health Care Coalition, Westchester for Change; NYS Nurses Association; and Pace University Office of Government and Community Relations, Department of Public of Administration. For more information call 914-761-4382. "When health care costs pose such a huge challenge to both public and private budgets, it is essential that the public has information about options for effectively controling costs while providing coverage to all," explains Madeline Zevon, chair of the League of Women Voters of Westchester Committee on Health.
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
Health Care is a Human Right, featuring speak- ers Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, was the first of two forums sponsored by the Westchester LWV related to Health Care Reform, which took place at the Lubin Graduate School of Pace University. Madeline Zevon, President of the WP LWV and Healthcare Chair for Westchester LWV, acted as moderator of the session, and pointed out that LWV had first endorsed the Single Payer policy in 1993.
NYS Assemblyman Gottfried, sponsor of the NYS As- sembly Single Payer bill, spoke first and emphasized that UNIVERSAL is the strong point. The State plan, New York Health for All, allows for thoroughly compre- hensive coverage for every resident of the state; and would be run by a broadly appointed Board accountable to all New Yorkers. It would be funded by broadbased taxes based on the ability to pay. The health system today is driven by insurance companies and is very regressive. The New York Health bill would call on the Board to expand and develop long term care. Assemblyman Gottfried feels that on a state level this is doable and can be accomplished. He pointed out that Canada, as an example, had started universal care in the provinces. And in the USA, Vermont has passed a Single Payer bill that will go into effect in 2017.
Dr. Rosenthal, a physician in private practice (asso- ciated with Physicians for a National Health Program) emphasized that the health care system in the US, which keeps private for-profit health insurance com- panies front and center, are able to increase prices at will, is morally reprehensible, often causing health costs to rise to a level of bankruptcy for many families. In fact, 50% of the bankruptcies in this country are due to medical debt. She emphasized the solidarity principle, pointing out the growing struggle by nurses and physicians groups to gain a national health pro- gram and emphatically stated that the US govern- ment has a responsibility for each of its citizen's lives.
The second Forum on health care reform, Understanding the Affordable Care Act, took place on October 20th and featured Charles Bell of Consumers Union and Assemblyman George Latimer, both of whom discussed the need for a health care system that afforded coverage for all New Yorkers.
Charles Bell addressed the problems that have given rise to a new direction for health care: 1) lack of access, with over 50 million Americans who presently have no health care 2) growth in the cost of health care premiums 3) high out-of-pocket costs for preventive care 4) hikes of costs for insurance contracts 5) outside of New York, if you lose your job, you may become uninsurable. He gave specific examples of sick children who were denied coverage for pre-existing medical conditions, the need for extending health coverage to teenagers and young adults, the need for small business owners to be able to give affordable health care benefits to employ- ees, etc. He stated that it is a barrier to individual liberty if someone cannot get insurance, and this is unacceptable.
Assemblyman Latimer, speaking of the New York State health care law which has not as yet been imple- mented, primarily because of political differences, asked the fundamental question: Is health care a social need or an individual service based on the ability to buy care. This, he said, has been the philosophical gap towards implementation of the bill. The deadline for implementa- tion is 2013 or the Federal Government will set up a plan, and the State will miss getting federal reimbursement for its State plan. This means that New Yorkers must make their voices heard, loud and clear, by notifying their leg- islators in E-mails, letters, phone calls to vote for the bill. In answering questions from the audience, both speakers felt that the New York State plan would pass, and would still be viable, even if changes in the Federal Health Plan were to come about as a result of a Supreme Court decision.
For re-broadcast, tune into Cablevision channel 76 or Verizon channel 45 at 3pm every day thru Nov. 3; or internet access at http://www.lwvwp.org wwww.lwvwestchester.org or
Harriet Slivka, Health Care Chair, White Plains LWV