Freelancers, Rejoice! Christine Quinn Pushes Forward With Health Center Plan

quinn htc.jpg
Sam Levin
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on a tour of the Hotel Trades Council Health Center with Dr. Robert Greenspan and Peter Ward, both from the HTC.
In her state-of-the-city address last month, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is expected to run for mayor, announced that the City Council would work with the Freelancers Union to launch a flagship health center that would provide low-cost care to the city's self-employed residents.

This morning, Quinn, alongside two other colleagues in the City Council and Freelancers Union Executive Director Sara Horowitz, toured the Hotel Trades Council's health center in Harlem, which she and the union plan on using as a model for a flagship clinic for freelancers in Brooklyn.

Runnin' Scared tagged along with the Council members and union reps for the hour-long tour, passing through dental offices, exam rooms, the center's pharmacy, and going up and down elevators, as the Hotel Trades representatives explained to Quinn how their operation works.

During the tour at the 125th Street center -- led by Robert Greenspan, the Hotel Trade Council's employee benefit funds chief executive officer -- they discussed HTC's health care model of one-stop clinics where union members can receive free care. In this system, the union provides its own insurance, which according to folks at the event, allows them to offer free coverage at a third of the cost of the average health maintenance organization (HMO).

After the tour ended, Quinn chatted with a few reporters about why she is choosing this as a model and why the city is investing in freelancers (Disclaimer: this reporter here has some experience with freelancing! It's the thing to do in journalism these days).

"There is no greater form of complimenting someone in my opinion than plagiarism," she said, praising the "soup-to-nuts" health care program at the Hotel Trade Council. "It [is] a complete medical home, a complete medical community for members."

"They do this at a far lower cost than really any other entity I have ever come across. I wanted to find a way that we could take that to other New Yorkers and really replicate their success," she said.

The City Council has committed $100,000 to help launch a clinic modeled after this one in Harlem -- which the Freelancers Union hopes to open in Brooklyn this summer.

The union, which now has 93,000 members in the city, also just secured a $174.4 million grant from the federal government to support a consumer health plan that will expand this "medical home" model in New York.

After receiving lengthy praise from Quinn, HTC President Peter Ward explained his philosophy behind this model: "To me, it's very simple. There are common sense solutions to health care and it is possible to provide health care that is better and cheaper than most the alternatives out there...If nothing else, meetings like this today continue to push the debate about health care."

It's a system that clearly works, Quinn said, citing some personal experience. "I know when I go to the doctor, you know, you have to... wait to get the prescription when you're waiting at the desk. Then you got to the pharmacy. Then you gotta wait there and come back later. They can't read the prescription. I fight over whether my pharmaceutical will cover that thing...I might have to get myself a side job to get better health care," she joked.

"When that happens to a lot of people, they never get their medication and then they get sick and really terrible things happen to them and you all have shown that none of that has to happen," she added.

Runnin' Scared asked Quinn why she wants to focus on freelancers. She said, "It's a growing part of our workforce...After the recession, that's gone up significantly...The average salary for a freelancer is about [$25,000]. So that's a salary that doesn't leave you a lot of money for anything, nonetheless health care."

Currently, independent workers like temps or copy editors account for 30% of the city's workforce, Quinn noted last month in her state-of-the-city speech.

Because the union has helped group together freelancers from across the city, a one-stop center is a logical next step, she said, adding that this is a model the City Council would like to expand further in the future.

Councilwoman Diana Reyna, chair of the small business committee, told Runnin' Scared after the event that this could eventually help other groups that aren't unionized. "If it works for these self-employed individuals, imagine when they're successful what it could mean for other groups of unorganized small businesses, like the livery drivers, who don't have health care."

After the tour, Ward from the HTC told us that his model operates 30-35% cheaper than the market place and gets better outcomes. "We are focused on primary care. We are focused on people having as much access to health care as they need."

He also added that the city should consider adopting this kind of model for its own health care system. "I think it's smart. It's just good business. It's good politics."

[SamTLevin / @SamTLevin]

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