Health & Patient Rights
- NYPIRG launches a new effort to combat growing medical debts.
- NYPIRG releases a review of federal data on the quality of medical care at New York State hospitals.
- Policy paper: NYPIRG Examines New York State's Tobacco Control Program.
- NYPIRG releases a report on prescription drug prices across New York State.
NYPIRG’s health and patient rights work is currently focused on empowering healthcare consumers by:
Keeping Health Care Affordable and Reducing Medical Debt. New York’s system of health care – much like the rest of the nation’s – allows for hundreds of thousands to go without health coverage and hundreds of thousands more with inadequate coverage. This reliance on a hodgepodge health coverage system can put the finances of millions of New Yorkers at risk. As reported by Forbes, "Fully half of Americans now carry medical debt, up from 46% in 2020" and that "More than half (57%) of Americans with medical debt owe at least $1,000." Those debts can often leave needy patients facing legal actions by hospitals and other providers, with judgments often enforced through liens on property or wage garnishments. From 2015 to 2020, New York hospitals sued approximately 52,000 New Yorkers, many of them low-income, over medical debt. At the same time, the state provides over $1 billion in assistance to nonprofit hospitals via the Indigent Care Pool funds (also called "charity care") to help low-income New Yorkers pay their medical bills.
The consequences of a medical debt lawsuit can be devastating. According to a recent report, "NY’s nonprofit hospitals have filed over 4,800 liens against patients homes in just two years and our research shows that the patients whose wages are being garnished are low-wage workers, who work retail and service jobs." These actions came during an ongoing pandemic. In response, NYPIRG has fought to ensure that hospitals are prohibited from putting liens on property and garnishing wages as the result of a medical debt judgment. We have also fought to ban facility fees for preventative care, helping reduce medical bills. We are currently advocating for New York to expand patient eligibility for charity care, and standardize the application so it is easier for patients to apply.
- Supporting Health Insurance for All. Over one million New Yorkers lack any form of health insurance whatsoever. In a recent survey, 52% of New Yorkers said that they had delayed or entirely forgone necessary medical visits because of fear of high medical bills. Our current health insurance system is not only making New Yorkers sicker, but leaving both the insured and uninsured vulnerable to catastrophic medical debt. Even those who have insurance can still end up with massive medical bills, sometimes through co-pays, deductibles, or surprise out-of-network bills. New York must replace our convoluted insurance system with a universal, single-payer system to provide comprehensive healthcare insurance to all New Yorkers.
- Curbing Drug Prices. For decades, NYPIRG has done extensive research and advocacy to curb drug prices in New York. Most recently, NYPIRG published a report in July 2020 documenting the wide differences in drug pricing across different New York State counties. New York has a law requiring the Department of Health to publish different prices for drugs across the state, and also requires the checkout counter of pharmacies to display written notice of the website. In our experience, many pharmacies are not complying, and many New Yorkers are still unaware they can shop around to find the best price for the medication they need. NYPIRG continues to work to raise awareness about this law and ensure New Yorkers have access to affordable prescription drugs.
- Protecting Patients. The National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine has documented that a staggering number of patient injuries and deaths result from poor quality medical care in hospitals. Two decades after this report, policymakers will continue to grapple with meeting the state’s goal of cutting the number of medical errors in half over the next few years. NYPIRG will push proposals to better identify hospitals’ medical outcomes, reduce prescription errors, better monitor office-based surgeries, ensure that providers’ medical skills are continually evaluated, and hold hospitals and physicians legally accountable for the care they deliver. See our resources and tips to help consumers choose a hospital with a good track record on keeping its patients safe from harm.
- Bolstering Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. Each year in New York, thousands of children are newly identified as "lead poisoned," having high levels of lead in their blood, indicating that they are likely to suffer permanent IQ loss and other health problems. There is no treatment for lead poisoning – prevention is the only way to address the lead poisoning epidemic. NYPIRG will push the state to fully implement programs for safer lead paint remediation practices, better primary prevention, improved childhood lead screening, and financial support for property owners to clean up lead problems.
- Fighting Cancer. Despite raising $2.6 billion in tobacco revenues, New York State has been systematically dismantling its program to help smokers to quit and to keep kids from starting this deadly addiction. NYPIRG continues to urge that the state’s tobacco control program be funded at levels consistent with recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, NYPIRG continues to advocate for free cancer screening for those without health insurance and pushes to protect the public from the dangers posed by indoor tanning facilities.
- Squashing "Superbugs." The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 35,000 Americans die annually from incurable superbug infections, and this number is rising. A recent study put the global death toll at more than one million per year. Antibiotic resistance is caused by overuse of antibiotics in both medicine and agriculture, which leads to more and more bacteria, or "bugs," becoming immune to the drugs. Superbugs ranging from drug-resistant tuberculosis to salmonella in chicken to MRSA are already causing unnecessary illnesses and deaths in New York. People are exposed to superbugs in hospitals, on sports equipment, in locker rooms, working with livestock, in food, and by contact with other infected individuals. The CDC estimates that almost a quarter of all antibiotic-resistant infections come from food. The New York State Department of Health, the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), and many others all recognize antibiotic-resistant infections as a grave threat to human health and recommend taking a "One Health" approach to combating it, tackling antibiotic overuse in both humans and in animals. NYPIRG is pushing for New York to follow the WHO’s recommended approach and create a new Office of Antibiotic-Resistance Control in the Department of Health to coordinate the state’s response to this rising threat by monitoring antibiotic stewardship programs in hospitals and nursing homes, and by prohibiting unnecessary use of antibiotics in livestock production.
- Protecting Public Health Funding. In addition to the cuts to the tobacco control program, other important public health measures have faced budget threats. These life-savings programs must be bolstered by new state support.
Resources & Tips for Choosing Hospital CareGetting good medical care isn’t a sure thing. While the vast majority of providers meet minimum requirements or better, many Americans are injured or killed by the medical care they receive. Positive medical care outcomes depend on carefully-coordinated care, communication, and policies designed to protect patients from harm. Not all hospitals are alike. Choosing the right hospital can be even more important than picking the right doctor. Below are several resources to guide consumers in their research:
- The Leapfrog Group – This hospital survey is considered by many to be the "gold standard" for comparing hospitals on standards of safety, quality, and efficiency. Leapfrog collects voluntarily-provided surveys from nearly 2,000 hospitals and cross checks it with other publicly-released data and medical experts to issue annual rankings. Leapfrog then ranks the states based on the number of hospitals that have achieved an "A" ranking. This year, the state of Maine topped the list with nearly 70 percent of its hospitals earning an "A." Rounding out the top five this year were Hawaii, Oregon, Wisconsin and Idaho.
- New York State Health Department Hospital Profiles – This site provides some useful information on the frequency of medical procedures that are performed at each hospitals.
- New York State Health Department Doctor Profiles – This site allows patients access to background information on physicians.
- Healthgrades.com - This site has comprehensive information on hospitals, such as quality ratings and affiliated physicians, and also has a database to help consumers find individual doctors.
- Ask questions. Gain as much insight as you can from your health-care provider. Ask about the benefits, side effects and disadvantages of a recommended medication or procedure.
- Seek a second opinion. If the situation warrants or if uncertainties exist, get a second opinion from another doctor: A good doctor will welcome confirmation of his/her diagnosis and resist any efforts to discourage the patient from learning more.
- Bring along an advocate. Sometimes it is hard to process all the information by yourself. Bring a family member or a friend to your appointment — someone who can take notes and help you understand the information and ask questions.