NEW YORK: New York City has launched a US$100 million health insurance program to cover 600,000 uninsured residents, including those unable to afford coverage and those living in the United States illegally, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.
De Blasio, now in his second term as mayor of the country's most populous city, has long supported universal healthcare coverage. Extending the program to an estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants puts the Democrat at odds with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made border security a top priority for his presidency.
"No one should have to live in fear. No one should go without the health care they need. Health care is a human right. In this city, we're gonna make that a reality," de Blasio said during a news conference. "From this moment on in New York City, everyone is guaranteed the right to health care."
Healthcare coverage has become a highly partisan issue in the United States. Trump's Republican party has pushed to repeal the 2010 Obamacare program, which expanded health care to most uninsured Americans, while the liberal wing of the Democratic party has called for a federally funded, single-payer system, inspired by programs in Canada and many European countries.
The NYC Care plan, which de Blasio said would be funded without tax increases, is an expansion of the city's existing MetroPlus plan that covers hospital bills for low-income residents. The new plan provides insurance for visits to doctors outside of hospitals. Health experts say that access to regular medical visits can cut down on costly hospital stays.
NYC Care, which will be launched in the Bronx borough in the summer of 2019, will expand across the entire city by 2021 and cost at least US$100 million annually, according to a statement from the mayor's office.
The mayor said all services would be affordable on a sliding scale for those who are able to pay a portion of the costs, while those who cannot afford to pay will receive care for free.
Unlike the MetroPlus plan, NYC Care is a program that leverages the city's hospital system. It provides no health coverage for residents traveling outside of the city, officials said at the news conference.
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Susan Thomas and Bernadette Baum)