NY Health Act undermined by members of Democratic majorities

By Published On: June 4th, 2021Categories: Capitol Notes

If you simply tally up the list of Assembly and Senate Democratic sponsors backing legislation implementing a state takeover of health insurance in New York, the measure has enough votes to pass both houses.

But that sign of public support – literally attaching their names to the bill – doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s going on behind the scenes with the New York Health Act, according to Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried.

The Manhattan Democrat told The Capitol Pressroom that some members in the Assembly’s Democratic majority, who are co-sponsors of the sweeping health care bill, have been expressing concerns and even opposition to the measure to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“It’s kind of annoying that these are apparently Assembly members who are telling the public, and me, that they’re all for the bill, but are privately going to the speaker saying, ‘Oh, not really,'” Gottfried said.

Previous incarnations of the New York Health Act were approved by the Assembly when Republicans controlled the state Senate, which meant the measure had no chance of even coming up for a vote. Since Democrats took over the chamber in 2019, the bill hasn’t gotten a vote in either house, lending credence to the idea that Democratic support for the measure isn’t as strong as the public façade.

Because of the internal dynamic revealed by Gottfried and opposition from public sector unions, an important constituency to the majorities in both houses, the New York Health Act is not expected to get a floor vote in either chamber of the state Legislature before the scheduled end to the legislative session on June 10.

“Getting to the floor before the session runs out next week would be a real uphill challenge,” Gottfried said.

Following the adoption of the state budget, public advocacy for the bill has picked up, including rallies and a viral video, but it’s still competing with other liberal priorities for the attention of Democratic lawmakers.

Assessing the advocacy landscape, Gottfried feels legislators – partially in response to lobbying – have been more energized on other issues, like rental assistance and criminal justice reforms. “For reasons that continue to mystify me, the health issue has not (attracted) that kind of adamant waving pitchforks support,” he said.

Moving forward, Gottfried said, “Marches and rallies and the like, I think are very important, as a way of helping to light fires under both advocacy groups and legislators. Lighting that kind of fire is going to be very essential to getting this bill done.”