Individual lawmakers can make a positive difference

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, was once the youngest member of the New York state legislature. His home base is the upper West Side of Manhattan and that helped make him into an űber- liberal. He is in favor of a comprehensive health care system that treats everyone regardless of ability to pay and he would like to see a tuition-free state and city university system. He knows, as I do, that there will never be true equality until the same educational opportunities are available to everyone.

But it is in the area of health care that Gottfried has developed special expertise. He has developed modesty during his over forty-year incumbency in the Legislature, but he still says he keeps learning of things “…that I didn’t know I didn’t know.” Other members of the Legislature keep moving from one committee to another but Gottfried’s commitment to his committee has given him unprecedented expertise in the health field.

When he was elected, his rhetoric was decidedly to the left and there were probably a lot of nervous legislative leaders awaiting his arrival. When he got to the “bigs,” however, Gottfried proved to be a team player and is now regarded by his leaders as a dependable citizen. Nevertheless, make no mistake about it — the man has guts. Take the case of so-called “fracking.” Despite the fact that New York City voters, whose water supply has been deemed inviolable, are evenly split on the advisability of hydrofracking, Gottfried has been right up there leading the charge against the potentially dangerous process. He has been critical of Governor Cuomo and his Department of Environmental Conservation. He more than hints that he smells a rat in the way in which Cuomo’s Health Department is studying the potential dangers of fracking. He says that while they have commissioned a study by three outside experts, these experts have been granted only 25 hours to study the thousands of pages of En Con data that has been assembled. Sounds to me like he is saying that the “fix is in” for fracking. He does say that the whole deal has been constructed so that after the health study has concluded, the so-called “comment” period on fracking will be over. When you are up against the oil and gas companies that are capable of spending millions of dollars to spread their views on the subject of fracking, having the top health expert in the Assembly leading the way for the anti-frackers is very important.

Also of great concern to Gottfried is the sepsis crisis that is such a scourge in our hospitals. Sepsis or SIRS is a severe blood infection that is killing a lot of people. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of death In New York’s hospitals. Gottfried tells us that 10 to 20 people a day die from this disease. In his travels to hospital emergency rooms around the state, he has seen huge signs that urge everyone to “Stop Sepsis.”

Gottfried is one of those rare politicians who is willing to take on the insurance companies. These powerful entities handle much of the so-called “managed care” that is supposed to curb the waste in our heath care system. Many of us in Medicare, a government program that has proven highly successful, understand all too well that including the insurance giants in the health care equation will ensure that a percentage of every health care dollar goes to these behemoths. That, Gottfried says, would be a disadvantage. He envisions a system in which health care providers themselves do the management.

We tend to downplay the contribution of individual legislators and their ability to make a positive difference but when you look at a man like Gottfried, you get a pretty good idea of the potential for experts in the Legislature and what they can mean to our policy making.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/4/13

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