Jan. 8 (UPI) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday a plan to provide primary and specialty care for roughly 600,000 residents who currently use the hospital emergency rooms in the city as primary care.
The mayor said the city already has a public health insurance option that helps undocumented residents access healthcare. A city spokesman said, though, the new program is not health insurance, but the city paying for direct comprehensive care for patients, WNBC-TV reported.
City residents will be able to access the new program on the local government's website or by calling 311. Recipients will pay for coverage on a sliding scale with those who cannot pay at all receiving free care.
"Healthcare is a right, not a privilege reserved for those who can afford it," de Blasio said in a statement. "While the federal government works to gut healthcare for millions of Americans, New York City is leading the way by guaranteeing that every New Yorker has access to quality, comprehensive access to care, regardless of immigration status or their ability to pay."
The program, called NYC Care, will cover pediatrics, obstetrician-gynecologist or OB/GYN, geriatric, mental health and other services. It will open this summer in the Bronx and continue to roll out geographically. It will cover all five boroughs by 2021, costing at least $100 million on an annual basis, the city said.
De Blasio said the city will not need to raise taxes for the program, which he believes will save money as residents become healthier through its use.
"We have the tools and opportunity to guarantee healthcare for all New Yorkers," NYC Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio said in a statement. "New Yorkers who can't enroll in or afford health insurance will now be able to access comprehensive, patient-centered services through NYC Care.
"At the same time, we will amplify our efforts to increase enrollment into MetroPlus. Today we celebrate our city's relentless commitment to accessible, high-quality healthcare," Palacio continued.
While contrasting NYC Care with the Republican effort to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, the mayor said the city's new program is specific to the needs of New York City and was likely not suitable to be applied at a state or national level.
The New York Times reported that de Blasio's announcements come as the New York state legislature, which is now controlled by Democrats, begins examining its own statewide universal healthcare system.