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Hearing on universal health care legislation held in Rochester

Brett Dahlberg
Supporters of the New York Health Act rally before a public hearing on the legislation in Rochester Thursday.

New York state legislators were in Rochester on Thursday to hear testimony for and against a bill that would create a universal single-payer health care system in the state.

Supporters of the proposed legislation rallied outside the Memorial Art Gallery before the hearing, and local Democratic Assembly member Harry Bronson said it was fitting to hear testimony about the bill in Rochester.

“In the home of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass -- here in Rochester, we believe in full equality,” he said. “You cannot have full equality if you don’t have universal health care.”

Agnes McCray, who testified at the hearing, echoed Bronson’s concerns. McCray has cerebral palsy, and she said she often finds herself needing to choose between buying food or medicine, or equipment, like an electric wheelchair.

Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News
Democratic state Assembly member Harry Bronson speaks before a public hearing on the New York Health Act on Thursday.

“Right now, our system is broken,” she said. “We cannot grow as a community if we do not have the right health care system in place.”

Kristin Reisch of Greece told the panel of legislators that her daughter Anna had amassed more than a half-million dollars in medical expenses before her 12th birthday. 

“But we were lucky,” Reisch said. “We had employer-provided insurance.”

Reisch described becoming angry while preparing her testimony for the panel.

“We live in a nation where it is up to parents of sick children to share our personal and tragic stories to convince our legislators that everyone deserves health care,” she said. “We must demand that each person in New York has the same right to medical care.”

But Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President Bob Duffy urged legislators to slow down. He said he learned from his time in government that private enterprise is often more efficient at services like health care, and he said the businesses he represents are worried.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren testifies before a panel of legislators at a hearing about the New York Health Act on Thursday.

“The concerns they have are the increase in taxes, because nothing is free, concerns about how much this will cost to implement -- will it drive businesses out? Will it reduce the quality of health care that people have?”

Insurance companies, too, have previously expressed concern about the legislation. “We’ve gotten over 96 percent of our population covered today -- why blow up the whole thing?” Excellus BlueCross BlueShield CEO Chris Booth said last month.

Booth said Excellus supports universal coverage, but he, like Duffy, said that coverage should come through private companies, not a single-payer government program.

The event in Rochester was the second in a series of public hearings around the bill being held around the state.

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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