New York City will spend about $100 million a year to expand health care to the city’s uninsured and unlisted residents by giving them access to primary care physicians and other preventive-care services. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this on Tuesday.
With about 600,000 uninsured people in the city, the plan aims to ease the burden on emergency rooms at local public hospitals. Some have an option to enroll in the established MetroPlus health program, an insurance plan that is a subsidiary of NYC Health + Hospitals system, which has 11 public hospitals and 70 clinics citywide.
Those who aren’t eligible for MetroPlus or can’t afford it can sign up for the new NYC Care plan. They will get a membership card, access to primary-care physicians, specialists, behavioral health care and pharmacy services within the city’s public hospital system.
The program will be available immediately to those who already are eligible for MetroPlus. Others can join in the coming months, beginning with Bronx residents.
The program is expected to cost $100 million annually at full scale from the city’s budget. Services will be available to New Yorkers on a sliding scale.
“We need to guarantee health care for all New Yorkers. No one should have to live in fear,” said Mr. de Blasio during a news conference in the Bronx. “No one should have to go without the health care they need.”
About half of the 600,000 New Yorkers without insurance are eligible but don’t enroll because they are young or don’t want to incur the cost of insurance, according to city officials. The other half are said to be undocumented immigrants and ineligible for protection.
The NYC Care plan won’t be a “lite” option of the already available MetroPlus program, said Mitchell Katz, the president, and chief executive of NYC Health + Hospitals. However, the new plan only will provide services within New York City and not cover members when they travel out of the five boroughs. Currently, MetroPlus has about 513,000 members.
NYC Health + Hospitals system serves all people regardless of immigration status or ability to pay and has offered a free or sliding-scale fee structure to patients under a longstanding program that is called NYC Health + Hospitals Options.
The new program is designed to shift health care to a primary-care system, said city officials, which is more efficient and less costly than when patients delay medical care or visit an emergency room.
Those who enroll in NYC Care will be given a primary-care physician and a number to call if there are problems, said Herminia Palacio, the city’s deputy mayor for Health and Human Services.
“We are spending much money right now and not spending it the way we want to,” said Mr. de Blasio of the way uninsured people have received health care through the city’s hospitals. “We are talking about a vast amount of cost we can avert.”
According to the most recent fiscal year numbers available from July through September for NYC Health + Hospitals, its deficit was $21.6 million versus $571.1 million compared with the same period in 2018. For that same period, 29% of emergency room visits were by patients who were uninsured.
The current wait for a primary care visit is about one week, but the city has been rolling out urgent clinics at its hospital sites, Dr. Katz said.
San Francisco and Los Angeles have similar programs, but NYC Care will reach more people, and the services will be more expansive, Dr. Katz noted. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that he would seek to expand health coverage for undocumented immigrants, 26 and younger, under the state’s Medi-Cal program.