Mayor de Blasio announces health care for all NYC residents

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that New York City is rolling out a $100-million-per-year program to provide health care to all residents, including undocumented immigrants.

The new program, NYC Care, will ensure health care for the estimated 600,000 people without health insurance in the city.

The mayor said he believes too many city residents turn to hospital emergency rooms for health care. Instead, NYC Care is intended to connect these New Yorkers with primary-care doctors, specialty care, mental health services and prescription drugs.

Health care will be guaranteed to all residents, regardless of someone's ability to pay or immigration status.

The plan calls for strengthening the city's public health insurance option, MetroPlus, and guaranteeing anyone ineligible for insurance -- including undocumented New Yorkers -- has direct access to NYC Health + Hospitals' physicians, pharmacies and mental health and substance abuse services. MetroPlus currently insures more than 500,000 low-income New Yorkers.

"Health care is a right, not a privilege reserved for those who can afford it," Mayor de Blasio said. "While the federal government works to gut health care for millions of Americans, New York City is leading the way by guaranteeing that every New Yorker has access to quality, comprehensive access to care, regardless of immigration status or their ability to pay."

Patients will be charged on a sliding scale, with the poorest New Yorkers paying nothing.

WATCH the official rollout of the NYC Care program

De Blasio said the program will begin this summer and will take two years to fully implement. He calls it "the most comprehensive health care system in the nation."

The price tag, however, draws concern for Michael Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State.

"(The mayor) feels very free to spend taxpayers' money at any cost, which is only going to lead to higher taxes and drive more, actually lower income people out of the city."

Others who have benefited from affordable care support the plan.

"I know there are still hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who aren't covered. People who are forgoing treatment are fighting for their lives while they fight hospital bills that they can't afford," said Mina Schultz, a cancer survivor, and health care advocate.

The mayor's office provided these additional details:

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 8 million New Yorkers now have health insurance, and the uninsured rate is about nearly half of what it was in 2013. In the last two years, New York City's Public Engagement Unit coordinated signing up more than 130,000 New Yorkers for plans through the exchanges created by the law. However, about 600,000 New Yorkers remain without insurance, because they do not or cannot enroll. Through this new initiative, New York City will create a bigger, better, more comprehensive program for guaranteed health care. The City aims to better connect people to more effective and affordable health care in one of two ways:
*NYC Care: The city will connect hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are ineligible for health insurance - including undocumented New Yorkers and those who cannot afford insurance - to reliable care. Anyone will be able to access comprehensive care across NYC Health + Hospitals' more than 70+ locations, once the program is fully ramped up. NYC Care is open to anyone who does not have an affordable insurance option and will be priced on a sliding scale, to ensure affordability. NYC Care will provide a primary care doctor and will provide access to specialty care, prescription drugs, mental health services, hospitalization, and more.

*NYC's Public Option: The City will double down on efforts to boost enrollment in MetroPlus, the City's public option. MetroPlus provides free or affordable health insurance that connects insurance-eligible New Yorkers to a network of providers that includes NYC Health + Hospitals' 11 hospitals and 70 clinics. MetroPlus serves as an affordable, quality option for people on Medicaid, Medicare, and those purchasing insurance on the exchange. The City is committed to strengthening MetroPlus and connecting more independent workers, City vendors and City workers to that option. It also will improve the quality of the MetroPlus customer experience through improved access to clinical care, mental health services, and wellness rewards for healthy behavior.
The City is taking an unprecedented approach to health care services by tackling mental and physical issues holistically. Through both programs, New Yorkers will be able to access addiction services and opioid treatment, mental health counseling, and counseling services for trauma victims. New Yorkers will be able to call MetroPlus or 311 to be screened for health insurance eligibility and get connected to their best coverage option.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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