“When Governor Pataki said he would cover one million uninsured New Yorkers, he forgot to say ‘April Fool’s,’” said Ceylane Meyers, regional director of Citizen Action of Western New York. She was speaking at a news conference on April Fool’s Day, called to reveal a cruel joke Pataki is playing on New Yorkers.

Under the Health Care Reform Act of 2000, $1 billion in higher cigarette taxes have been collected to provide health insurance, under the Family Health Plus program, to one million adults between the ages of 19 and 64. However, only about 23,000 people have actually received health coverage.

According to Citizen Action, one reason for this is the income eligibility is very low. A family of four cannot make over $8,200 a year to qualify for the program. “It’s a travesty that someone working at a minimum wage job makes too much to qualify for Family Health Plus,” said Amy Liberatore, a Citizen Action member.

Another problem with the program is the lengthy and complicated application form, which causes thousands of eligible people to remain uninsured. Citizen Action says there is evidence that making it easy for people to enroll in the public insurance programs that they qualify for will result in many more eligible people getting coverage.

After Sept. 11, the computer system that processed Medicaid applications in New York City went down. The state set up a temporary Disaster Relief Medicaid (DRM) program that used a simple one-page application form for Medicaid, Family Health Plus and Child Health Plus, New York State’s insurance program for children up to the age of 18.

As Meyers said, “And the Governor really took New Yorkers to be fools when he ended the only new program that was working to provide coverage to uninsured New Yorkers, the Disaster Relief Medicaid that provided coverage for 380,000 uninsured people.” That program ended Jan. 31.

Citizen Action of Western New York is calling on the Governor and the legislature to immediately make the simple one-page DRM application form permanent and statewide, and to raise the income eligibility limits to the same level as Child Health Plus.

After the news conference, Meyers delivered letters to the Governor’s office, written by workers who do not have health insurance and cannot afford the treatments and medicines they need for their health problems.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org