Letter to the editor.
This is a letter to the editor from Leslie Danks Burke, candidate for New York’s 58th State Senate district. To submit opinion letters, please review our letters policy here and submit them to Managing Editor Thomas Giery Pudney at tgpudney@ithacavoice.com.

On April 14th, I took part in the Tompkins County Democrats’ Virtual Candidates Forum. Hats off to the organizers for making sure that even while we’re social distancing, voters still get to question anyone seeking to represent us.

I do not have a primary in my race for State Senate, so after I spoke about my own election in November, it was an honor to hear the seven Democrats running in June’s Assembly primary, and I was pleased to hear that all seven support the New York State Health Act.  This bill would create a single-payer health care system here in New York, and I have vocally supported it for years. Every New Yorker deserves access to health care. Period.

The Assembly has passed the New York Health Act by a two-thirds margin four times over, but it always dies in the State Senate. As a Senator, I look forward to sponsoring and passing this bill, because the New York Health Act covers everyone while saving money.

Folks may not think about the fact that New York already has taxpayer-funded healthcare for one-quarter of its people, but we do, through Medicaid. Out of the 19.3 million New Yorkers, one out of four – two of every five children, five of every eight nursing home residents – are covered by Medicaid/CHIP.

But the way we pay for Medicaid in New York is different from any other state, and it harms the very people it’s designed to serve. Unlike every other state, New York perversely makes us pay for Medicaid through regressive property taxes.  So poor counties – which, of course, have more Medicaid recipients – pay more than rich counties.  Funding Medicaid this way means that we are squeezing money out of seniors on fixed incomes, small business owners struggling through this recession, even folks who are unemployed or laid off.  Funding health care regressively lets wealthier people off the hook, which makes it harder for everyone else to get ahead. On top of it all, the current system raises our taxes sky-high.

And even though Medicaid is taxpayer-funded, it is not single-payer here. Every state administers Medicaid differently, and New York uses a Medicaid-for-Profit scheme where our property tax dollars enrich for-profit health insurance companies like United Health Care and Wellcare. Undoubtedly, those corporations are making big bucks (they wouldn’t do it, otherwise) and, in fact, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s audit a few months ago found that almost $800 million in fat could be cut without impacting Medicaid services.

Why does all this matter? Because using regressive taxes to fund a health care system that enriches private insurance companies is not just wrong – it’s insanely counterproductive.  For single-payer to work, costs have to get under control. But New York’s current Medicaid-for-Profit model is a case study in how corporate greed bloats taxpayer costs.

With  COVID-19 bringing the need for universal, single-payer care into stark relief, it’s time we call loudly for our state to stop harming poorer counties and people with a regressive taxation scheme, and as we discuss the best ways to finance single-payer, the one thing we should all be able to agree on is that property taxes are the wrong answer.

In Albany’s pay-to-play culture, this will be hard. I know, because I am running my campaign by choosing to be funded by real people rather than just outside interests. But Big Insurance and Big Pharma still set the agenda in Albany, giving $40,000 first to Governor Cuomo in 2018, then $44,000 to State Senate Republicans.

I’m willing to stand up to these powerful interests because I see how crippling it is to families and small businesses across the Southern Tier to grapple with property taxes on top of healthcare costs (which cause over of all personal bankruptcies in America). I look forward to casting a vote for families, for small businesses, and for common sense by voting for the New York Health Act in the State Senate. And together, with whomever of the seven candidates for Assembly wins, we can stand together to stop raising our property taxes sky-high to pay health care profits.

Leslie Danks Burke

Leslie Danks Burke is running against incumbent Republican Senator Tom O’Mara in New York’s 58th State Senate district, which covers Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, and most of Tompkins.