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February 3, 2004

Powerful union promises ‘massive’ lobbying campaign for new health-care tax

A powerful hospital workers’ union has launched what it calls a “massive” lobbying and advertising campaign pressuring Governor Pataki and the Legislature to impose up to $2.8 billion in new taxes on businesses, to pay for new hospital projects and another major expansion of taxpayer-funded health care.

Local 1199/SEIU, which is promoting the "pay or play" plan, was the major lobbying force behind the 2000 decision by the Governor and the Legislature to enact a major expansion of the state’s Medicaid program with funding from new taxes and the national tobacco settlement.

The union, along with the Greater New York Hospital Association, launched its campaign with a February 4 press conference at the Capitol in Albany and a full-page advertisement in the Albany Times Union.

The “major public information campaign” will also include “direct mail, radio and TV ads, phone-banking etc.” according to the union’s web page. The group also promised a “massive lobbying effort in Albany” this spring.

Asked by a reporter how much the group would spend on the campaign, union president Dennis Rivera said the group had access to "millions" of dollars.

The proposal, called the Healthcare Equity and Access Law (HEAL NY), would tax employers that do not provide employee health insurance benefits as much as $3,000 per employee. The coalition estimated the new “surcharge” could raise $2.8 billion.

New Yorkers who purchase health insurance – primarily employers – already pay $1.3 billion in state health taxes, including hospital-based taxes not imposed by any other state.

“The Rivera plan insults employers by blaming them for the high cost of health insurance,” said Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh. “Businesses in New York struggle under the nation’s heaviest tax burden, thanks in part to the taxes that go directly to hospitals and Mr. Rivera’s members. We hope Governor Pataki and the Legislature will reject this latest pressure tactic from Local 1199.”

Under HEAL NY the counties’ share of the state-run Family Health Plus program would be transferred to the state. The group said that move would save localities $195 million, less than one-tenth of the new $2.8 billion cost to taxpayers.

The proposal also puts part of the blame for the state’s cash-strapped hospitals on a state law that prevents privately traded companies from owning hospitals or nursing homes.
Because they find it hard to raise capital, hospitals are forced to either pass on costs to businesses and consumers through higher insurance costs or stop investing in new technologies, the proposal said.

The plan also asks for the sale of state bonds to provide low-cost loans to financially troubled hospitals. New York already has the nation's second highest level of public debt at $9,357 per capita, research by The Public Policy Institute of New York State has shown.

HEAL NY would also widen Family Health Plus eligibility requirements by expanding income eligibility for childless adults from 100 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent. The United Hospital Fund of New York State reports that more than 40 percent of uninsured individuals in the state are eligible for an existing public program.

HEAL NY would also ease eligibility requirements for Medicaid programs by allowing Medicaid beneficiaries to recertify every two years, instead of annually, and would repeal the requirement for a face-to-face interview at application.

To read the full HEAL NY proposal, visit www.1199seiu.org/.