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Guest Column: Leslie Danks Burke

“Getting the Health Care We're Paying For”

Leslie Danks Burke is running for New York State Senate in the 58th district, which includes Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties, and part of Tompkins. Her office is at 700 N. Franklin St., Watkins Glen.

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 14, 2020 -- It can be hard, when we hear about the rapidly increasing numbers of people dying of COVID in our region, to think about the real people in those numbers. Yet behind statistics like a death toll of 69 in Steuben County, 114 active cases in Chemung County, 196 people being monitored or in quarantine in Schuyler County -- behind these numbers are our friends and neighbors, right here, grappling with tragedy.

Across our Finger Lakes and Southern Tier region, people whose lives were cut off in the last couple weeks by this terrible virus were someone’s mother, someone’s grandfather, someone else’s teacher. Taking the time to reflect on the loss we’re experiencing is painful, but it also gives us the resolve to confront challenges that have real solutions -- if we demand that our leaders take them on.

Every one of us has the power to be a warrior against this virus. We can wear a mask and keep physical distance from others. Even children are proudly taking responsibility for their well-being and the health of those around them by vigorously washing their hands every time they come indoors.

On top of taking personal responsibility, we also can demand that our elected leaders let us keep our access to the health care that we rely upon. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) established open insurance exchanges and Medicaid access so that today, only about one out of every twenty New Yorkers remains uninsured. Because of the ACA, insurance companies can’t deny us coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The ACA lets parents keep their dependent children on their insurance up to the age of 26. These improvements over what we had before 2010 are why a solid majority of New Yorkers and Americans approve of the Affordable Care Act.

In 2017, Congress came very close to repealing the ACA, and right now, a large debate is going on in Congress over whether to set up a Supreme Court to get rid of the ACA and our health care that it provides. We wouldn’t be able to get insurance coverage if we have pre-existing conditions. We wouldn’t be able to keep our children on our health insurance until they are 26. Seniors on Medicare will lose free yearly health physicals and screenings for diabetes and cholesterol. Women will lose no-cost mammograms. We will again pay for flu shots.

Is the Affordable Care Act perfect? Of course not. One-in-twenty uninsured people is way too many -- even though it is far below the rate in other states like Texas and Florida where more than 10% of residents don’t have insurance. It's also a problem that here in New York, we pay for Medicaid with ruinous property taxes, we have the most expensive Medicaid system in the country, and it lines the pockets of Big Insurance and Big Pharma who employ lobbyists in Albany to keep it that way.

These problems aren’t a good reason to throw away what we’ve gained, but they are why I support moving to a single payer system under the New York Health Act, to cut out these payoffs from our tax dollars to private corporations, and generate substantial savings. Taxpayers fund the excellent health insurance that covers our political leaders in Albany and in Washington. We here in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes deserve no less than our elected leaders give themselves.

Finally, we also can demand that our elected leaders invest some of those sky-high taxes we pay back here for our rural hospitals that have been shorted for too long. Massive private hospitals with armies of lobbyists get special treatment that leaves our rural hospitals without infrastructure or stable supply chains. And we should demand that instead of funneling money into these corporations, our leaders should support initiatives that organize care for county residents who rely on rural hospitals as their first healthcare contact point, with the next option perhaps hours away. Dialing back supply chain infrastructure to the breaking point in the best of times means that our rural hospitals stand no chance of weathering skyrocketing virus cases like urban areas saw last spring. It’s up to us, now, before a crisis peaks, to demand that our leaders get prepared.

COVID is a stark reminder that it’s vital to be able to get health care when we need it, and that we can raise our voices against the politicians who want to take away what we’ve gained in the last decade. Navigating a serious case of COVID is hard enough. Losing a family member to the virus is heartbreaking. And weathering any of this while worried about medical bills imposes an unimaginable burden on patients and their families. Let’s ask our elected leaders to do right by us, and get us the health care we need.

Photo: Leslie Danks Burke

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Carl Blowers, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Gary Gray, David Reed, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Carl Blowers, 535-6174 or 237-5469

Legislature Members:

Gary Gray, 292-9922

Van Harp, 329-2160

Jim Howell, 535-7266 or 227-1141

David M. Reed, 796-9558

Michael Lausell, 227- 9226

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro, 398-0648

County Clerk: Theresa Philbin, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Holley Sokolowski, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2017
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869