At a Bronx rally packed with supporters Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended the Affordable Care Act and warned that Washington, DC, is abandoning the middle class.
“We say people need health care. The other side says, ‘We pay for our health care, and it’s fine,’ ” Cuomo said at the event at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the affiliated medical school of Montefiore Health System. “Most families can’t spend 20, 30, 40 thousand dollars for private insurance. That is not reality. Most families don’t have their names on a hospital wing. That is not reality.”
Montefiore, Bronx’s largest health system, and 1199SEIU, the state’s largest health care union, filled an auditorium with several hundred executives, employees and union members.
Cuomo, who took the stage following speeches by hospital and union leaders and a performance by a five-piece rock band playing hits like DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” and “Hot, Hot, Hot” by Arrow, stressed the dichotomy between his own policies and the concerns of the wealthy, citing his support for a higher minimum wage, free college tuition at public universities, a tax cut for the middle-class and a resolution to the state’s foreclosure crisis.
Cuomo said the repeal of the Affordable Care Act could have a devastating impact on new York, citing estimates released in January that New York’s Medicaid program could lose by $3.7 billion in funding and that 2.7 million New Yorkers would lose coverage.
He spoke of “health care as a human right” and warned of the dangers of people losing their coverage and potentially putting off preventive care.
“If I sneeze, you catch a cold, and germs don’t discriminate,” Cuomo said. “Germs don’t say, ‘Oh, you’re a Democrat [or] you’re a Republican [or] you’re a rich person, and I won’t infect you because you’re a rich person. To be smart, you provide health care for all.”
That message resonated in a room full of doctors, nurses and other health care industry workers delivering care in Bronx, New York state’s least healthy county.
Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. warned that without access to health insurance, Bronxites might not be healthy enough to reap the benefits of economic development. He said that if the country became sicker after a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the effect would be magnified in Bronx. More than 30% of Bronx residents lived in poverty in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We all know when there’s a cold or flu in other parts of the city, state and the country, the Bronx has pneumonia,” he said. “If adults are sick, they can’t work. If kids are sick, they can’t learn.”
Cuomo’s call to preserve the Affordable Care Act was convincing to Cuban immigrant Lesvia Mendez, 78, a retired medical lab technologist and an active member of 1199SEIU for 32 years.
She traveled 90 minutes from Elmhurst, Queens, to attend the rally. Despite the fact that the deck is stacked against Democrats in Washington, she held out hope that Cuomo and state Democrats could influence the Republicans’ health care plan. She called Cuomo’s message “forceful” and “presidential.”
“We have to fight and try to work with the other side,” she said. “We are so divided. If we can’t [come together], it will be a big struggle into the future.”