By Nora OBrien-Suric
Dec. 12 is International Universal Health Coverage Day, a day for people across the globe to mobilize in support of strong, equitable health systems.
At the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York, we believe that access to high-quality, affordable health care is a human right. This position is shared by an increasing number of high-profile leaders and policymakers, including the United Nations, which declared in 2019 that “everyone, everywhere, has the right to accessible, high-quality, affordable care that promotes physical and mental health.”
The Health Foundation’s mission is to improve the health and health care of the people and communities of Western and Central New York. That’s why this issue is so important to us: When members of our community don’t have access to health care, or are unable to pay for it, those impediments have a direct impact on their short- and long-term health.
Earlier this year, we funded two reports to examine the barriers to health coverage faced by residents of our region. The reports, led by United Hospital Fund and the National Council on Aging, both found a number of reasons why New Yorkers may be unable to access health coverage.
Both reports overwhelmingly showed that the costs of health care and insurance coverage are major barriers to care and force many New Yorkers to make difficult choices every day.
Two people interviewed for the UHF report said that the costs of care had put them in a position where they had to extract their own teeth rather than seek care from a dentist. One woman from Jamestown surveyed for the NCOA report noted that she remained uninsured because she had to choose between paying for groceries or health insurance premiums.
This daily risk analysis – food or medicine, rent and heat or health insurance – is a dangerous situation that many New Yorkers find themselves in due to the costs of health care and insurance premiums.
The urgency of this cannot be overstated. Uninsured adults are far more likely than those with insurance to postpone health care or forgo it altogether. A Kaiser Family Foundation report found that one in five nonelderly adults without coverage say they went without care in the past year because of cost.
The research we noted shows overwhelmingly that without access to affordable health care, other attempts to improve the health of residents may be in vain. We strongly encourage our leaders to work to find a bipartisan, evidence-driven solution. Dismantling the barriers to universal, comprehensive health coverage is an essential part of making the lives of New Yorkers better, longer and healthier.
Nora O’Brien-Suric, Ph.D., is president of the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.