NEW YORK -- New York City will spend up to $100 million per year to expand health care coverage to people without health insurance, including immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.
The plan involves expanding the city's existing public insurance program and providing uninsured people with access to affordable care at city-owned facilities.
"From this moment on in New York City everyone is guaranteed the right to health care," the Democratic mayor said. "We are saying the word guarantee because we can make it happen."
The program is intended to reach an estimated 600,000 city residents currently without health insurance.
Half of that group can't get health insurance because of their immigration status, de Blasio said, while the remainder includes young people who don't think they need coverage and people who find the Affordable Care Act exchanges unaffordable or difficult to navigate.
The plan will build on the city's existing public-option health insurance program called MetroPlus, which currently insures more than 500,000 low-income New Yorkers.
It will also aim to provide the uninsured with a range of services, including primary-care physicians, mental health services and prescription drugs, through the network of hospitals and clinics run by the city Health and Hospitals Corporation.
The city's public hospitals already care for low-income New Yorkers, including those without legal immigration status, but too much of that care consists of expensive and inefficient emergency room visits, de Blasio said.
"We want to flip the script," de Blasio said. "The emergency room truly should be the last resort."
Dr. Mitchell Katz, the CEO of the public hospital system, said the city will hire additional primary-care doctors to meet an expected growth in demand.
The city's plan is similar to programs that have been established elsewhere like the Healthy San Francisco initiative but is broader, said Katz, who has previously led health agencies in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
"Here psychotherapy is a covered benefit, which was not the case in San Francisco," he said.
De Blasio said the program will take two years to implement and will be "the most comprehensive health care system in the nation." Patients will be charged on a sliding scale, with the poorest New Yorkers paying nothing.
The mayor unveiled the program at a news conference at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx after first announcing in on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"We're going to make sure it's seamless because that way people actually are encouraged to get the health care they need and never get to the point where they end up in the emergency room," he said on "Morning Joe."
He told the news conference that he would love to see a single-payer health care system enacted by Congress or by New York state lawmakers, but "our people need health care right now."
De Blasio's announcement came the day after Gavin Newsom, the newly inaugurated Democratic governor of California, proposed state-funded health care coverage for 138,000 young people living in the country illegally and reinstating a mandate for everyone to buy insurance or pay a fine.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state proposed a statewide public health insurance option available to anyone who is not covered by an employer.
The prospects for a statewide universal health care proposal in New York improved last fall when Democrats took control of the entire Legislature by winning a Senate majority. But while many liberal members of the Senate and Assembly say they favor an expansion of state-run health care, finding the money to pay for such a program would be challenging. The 2019 legislative season kicks off Wednesday.
Republican state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who ran unsuccessfully against de Blasio in the 2017 mayor's race, criticized the expanded health care plan.
"Our citizens have a hard enough time covering their own healthcare costs and now Mayor de Blasio also wants them to pay for the healthcare of 300,000 citizens of other countries," Malliotakis said in a statement. "The mayor must stop abusing the middle class and treating us like his personal ATM."
Associated Press writer David Klepper contributed to this report from Albany.
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Mayor de Blasio announces health care for all NYC residents