The US Senate health bill released last week could be voted on sometime this week if the GOP leadership thinks it has the votes to pass it. Thank God, at this point, it doesn’t seem to but it is very close and politics being what it is, deals could be made to get the final votes. If it is passed in the Senate there is some suggestion that the House could simply just pass the Senate bill and it would become law as soon as Donald Trump signs it.
If this nightmare legislation were to become law it would go down in history as one of the biggest efforts ever by the government of the United States to punish and take away the rights and benefits of average citizens. Though it is not an exact parallel, I can’t help thinking of the Jim Crow era in the South after the Civil War when angry white politicians maneuvered to stop African Americans from voting and having public rights to use the same restrooms, eat at the same lunch counters, travel on the same buses. The white leadership wanted an apartheid state in the South and they got it.
This Senate bill is also about civil rights if you believe as I do that health care is a human right. It will end up taking health care away from over 20 million people according to most estimates. Senate and House leaders and the President are hellbent to do it because they hate Obamacare, they promised their supporters they would destroy it and they want to cut the taxes it included on their wealthy supporters.
Older Americans will not be exempt from the pain. Not only does the Senate bill allow insurance companies to charge higher rates to older persons, it takes a hatchet to Medicaid which covers nursing homes and long term care. It also cuts taxes that were added to Medicare, taking revenue away and several years off the program’s full solvency.
It would be different if the opponents of Obamacare raised legitimate issues about the problems with it and tried to make the program work better. That is not what they are doing. Why is that every major health organization of doctors, hospitals and even insurance companies oppose this bill in additional to patient groups like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and others? They know the truth: the bill will take health care away from millions of people and then they will rely on their propaganda machine to tell fake stories about how it actually is better than Obamacare. That is a lie that will be exposed every time a person who had coverage loses it.
If the bill is signed into law, it will be resisted too, just like apartheid and in the end, we will repeal and replace it with a more humane health program.
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Albany County Executive Dan McCoy will host a stakeholders meeting for over 200 persons on Wednesday, July 12 for his Age Friendly Albany County initiative which he announced in October. A WHO representative at the United Nations is scheduled to attend to make a presentation along with a state representative of AARP which leads the initiative in the United States for the WHO. State officials will also provide a welcome and speak about Governor Cuomo’s goal to make New York State the first age friendly state in the country. County leaders will discuss plans for the initiative.
The stakeholders meeting is the first large public meeting for the Age Friendly Albany County initiative. The goal of the meeting is to discuss the initiative’s goals and the process that will be used as the initiative unfolds over a multi-year period. A Community Council will be formed with representatives of the towns and municipalities in the county. Committees will be formed from those interested persons regarding the eight “domains” of livability that the WHO has identified for an age friendly community. The eight domains are:
- Outdoor Spaces and Public Buildings
- Social Participation
- Respect and Social Inclusion
- Civic Participation and Employment
- Communication and Information
- Community and Health Services
I am serving as co-chair of the initiative with Dr. Pat Binzer. Tom Scharf is the director of the project for Albany County.
In the midst of all the proposed cuts to programs at the federal level which will make life more difficult for families and persons in need, it is great to know that the fruits of our advocacy work to established the New York State Paid Family Leave program are soon to become a reality. New York State’s program which was enacted in 2016 will go into effect on January 1, 2018 for all employees of private employers who must offer it on that date. Public employers may opt into the program. However, employers can start taking the deductions beginning July 1, 2017. The program will be run through the disability system which each employer is required to pay into.
Employees can access the program if they have worked for 26 weeks full time or 175 days part-time and can take up to 8 weeks paid leave at 50% of their salary in 2018. Programs benefits will be phased in over several years until reaching 12 weeks at 67% of weekly salary in 2021.
Employees do not have to use all their sick or vacation time in order to use the paid family leave benefit. They will have to keep paying the premium while on paid family leave. The contribution rate for 2018 has been set at 0.126% of each employee’s weekly wage. This means the maximum contribution is $1.65/week for each employee in 2018, regardless of age, gender, and other traits. For example, an employee making $15/hr would contribute $0.756/week and an employee making $25/hr would contribute $1.26/week.
Employees may be approved for paid family leave to care for family members under three broad categories: birth of a newborn, care of a sick relative or military leave when a spouse is actively deployed. Medical documentation will be required. The program lists those relatives who a family member could care for to be eligible for the program: