In Obergefell V. Hodges, Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Marriage Is Constitutional Right

Originally published in Westchester Magazine

June 26, 2015

Legal in New York since 2011, the Supreme Court has ruled that all states must allow and recognize same-sex marriage.

By all objective measures, The Supreme Court is on a roll this week. Just one day after upholding President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Court ruled on Friday that marriage for same-sex couples is a constitutional right.

Following the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, Obama personally called and congratulated Jim Obergefell, who wanted his home state of Ohio to recognize the marriage between him and his late husband, John Arthur. Wed in Maryland, when Arthur died shortly after returning home to Ohio, where same-sex marriage was illegal, the state refused to acknowledge their union.

Now, after an emotional victory for Obergefell—and for every same-sex couple in the United States—regardless of the state in which a couple lives, their marriage will be recognized.

Westchester Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-17) said in a press statement, “Today, the United States Supreme Court upheld one of the fundamental principles of our country: equal treatment under the law.”

“This is an exciting day for all of us who believe in equality and justice. For too long, LGBT couples have been restricted from exercising their fundamental rights. Now, all men and women have equal protection and are free to marry whomever they love regardless of what state they call home,” she said.

For another member of Westchester’s congressional delegation, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-18), Friday’s historic victory was also a personal one.

Maloney, who last year married his now-husband Randy after 22 years together, said “While the idea of marriage was once impossible, in the eyes of the federal government, because of the Supreme Court’s action, our relationship was finally treated as equal under federal law. These triumphs are not only for families like mine, but for millions of Americans who still face legal discrimination simply for who they are and who they love. I will continue to work in Congress to make sure that we keep taking steps toward full equality”

“The Supreme Court made the right decision today by recognizing same-sex marriages and treating all same-sex couples across the country equally under the law. Today the court continued the progress of the civil rights movement, and reaffirmed a moral truth about freedom in America that is, as John Kennedy said, ‘as old as scripture and as clear as the American Constitution,’” Maloney said.

What Does King V. Burwell Mean For New York Health Insurance?

Following the Supreme Court decision, I wrote the update for a previously published article in Westchester Magazine by my colleagues.

Update (6/26/15)

President Obama celebrated a big political victory on Thursday when the Supreme Court ruled six to three that the Affordable Care Act’s federal tax subsidies would not be struck down. Five years after the law’s inception, the fear that millions of Americans in 34 states would lose health insurance subsidies was finally put to rest with the court’s decision.

Chief Justice John Roberts—a Republican-appointed justice—displeased many conservatives when he ruled with the majority to uphold the law in its entirety. The case, King v. Burwell, was based on an apparently ambiguous passage of five words in the Affordable Care Act, which the plaintiffs in the case argued invalidated health insurance exchanges run by the Federal Government. Roberts did not agree.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” he wrote in the court’s opinion.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who was particularly frustrated with the decision—he dissented from the bench—wrote, “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”

But the law’s future still isn’t totally clear, either. The New York Time’s published an article immediately after the decision titled “Obamacare Ruling May Have Just Killed State-Based Exchanges;” now that it’s been decided that subsidies can be given through federal exchanges, it’s technically possible states that have already set up their own healthcare exchange, like New York, might just decide to let the feds handle the whole thing.

“There may be a little bit of buyers’ remorse going on in some state capitals right now,” Sabrina Corlette, director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University, told the Times.

Westchester Congressman Eliot L. Engel, who told Westchester Magazine that New Yorkers could count on their state-run exchange regardless of the outcome of King v. Burwell, said Friday that even New York opted to revert to a federally run exchange, if high-quality coverage was available, it would still be a win for New Yorkers.

“The bottom line for me is affordable health care for everybody. I don’t care if it’s done in state exchanges or federal exchanges. I don’t really care about the mechanism, what I care about is that affordable health care is available to everybody,” Engel said. “It is available to everybody in New York based on the New York exchange, and at some point if there’s a federal exchange where the quality of care is the same as it is now—or better—then it doesn’t bother me. We have to keep our eye on the prize, and the prize is that in New York everybody gets health coverage that’s affordable. I’ve always believed that health coverage is a right not a luxury.”

New York Health Exchange Set To Recognize Pregnancy As “Life Qualifying Event” For Enrollment

Originally published in Westchester Magazine

June 22, 2015

Women who become pregnant will be eligible to enroll in insurance places from NY State of Health.

For residents of New York, getting health insurance as a pregnant woman is on track to becoming easier after the state legislature passed last week a first-of-its-kind bill changing how pregnancy would be classified at the state’s health insurance exchange.

The legislation will classify pregnancy as a “qualifying life event;” once the open enrollment periods to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare) end each year, only people who experience these events—getting married, having a baby or adopting a child, losing health coverage, among others—are still eligible to enroll. Becoming pregnant originally did not make the cut.

Now, if Governor Andrew Cuomo signs the legislation, New York will become the first state to make that addition. If signed into law, it will allow NY State of Health, New York’s healthcare exchange, to accept applications from women who are uninsured, underinsured, or who don’t qualify for Medicaid to purchase health insurance once they become pregnant. It will provide New York’s moms-to-be with access to vital prenatal care, which is important for both mother and baby.

“Ending prematurity, premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality in New York State could realize an annual savings of over $1 billion dollars,” said Caitlin Goss, state director of advocacy and government affairs for the New York State chapter of March of Dimes. “We know that prenatal care is one of the best ways to help mom have the healthiest pregnancy, and thereby the healthiest baby possible. And so, by making this initial investment, we’re confident that we’re going to the see the number of poor birth outcomes, as well as the number of premature births, decrease, which will in turn decrease the utilization of health care services.”

According to March of Dimes, the average medical cost for a healthy baby is less than $5,000, while the average medical cost for a premature baby is more than $55,000.

“New York State is providing a model for the nation in establishing a special enrollment period for pregnancy,” said March of Dimes Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Government Affairs Cynthia Pellegrini in a press release. “The March of Dimes urges every state to follow New York’s lead in ensuring that all pregnant women have access to affordable, quality health insurance.”

March of Dimes commended Westchester and Hudson Valley Assemblymen Gary Pretlow, Thomas Abinanti, Steven Otis, Kieran Michael Lalor, and James Skoufis, and State Senators George Latimer, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Sue Serino for their support of the legislation.

“A woman should not have to worry about the enrollment period of her health insurance plan when she becomes pregnant,” said Abinanti, who represents Greenburgh and Mount Pleasant. “It makes sense to reopen the enrollment time for her. Good prenatal care is vital to protecting the health of pregnant women and to ensure that they have healthy babies.”

In unfamiliar surroundings, millennials have a common bond

Originally published in The Journal News as part of my monthly “How We Live” Column.

June 19, 2015

I’ve heard many things about my generation — about us “millennials,” as we’re so often called: We don’t know how to settle down; our necks will be forever crooked; we’ll never be able to pay off our student loans; and our ability to communicate through genuine conversation is quickly fading, as is our ability to handwrite.

I agree. Most of that is probably true.

But there is one other thing that trumps all of that and defines Generation Y so much more than a selfie-stick: We travel; we explore the world; we learn new languages; we meet new people; we try new foods; and we practice new faiths.

We are lucky that technology has grown with us, and that better, faster and more reliable means of both communication and transportation have evolved so rapidly to enable us opportunities that have not always existed.

I remember my family’s first computer when I was about six-years-old, which was a Gateway desktop computer. That computer sat unopened in our living room in its large, cow-patterned box for a few days until the technician came to set it up. Back then, the Internet was dial-up, so if my mom needed to make a phone call, I needed to stop playing Neopets.

But that was more than 15 years ago.

Now, as young adults, we can pick up our smartphones or tablets to see our parents’ and friends’ faces and hear their voices from halfway around the world.

I recently returned from a trip to South America, and I am not sure I would have had the courage to go so far from home, albeit for about two weeks, if there had been no way to tell my family that I was safe.

In an unfamiliar place where the language wasn’t my own, it was comforting to know my phone could bring me back home for just a few moments.

We are quick to criticize technology and list all of the ways it hurts society, especially for millennials, but it is incredible to realize how far it can take us. It took a friend of mine and me to Peru this summer.

Just by chance, we happened to be in the city of Cusco during Corpus Christi, which is a major global holiday that celebrates the tradition of the Eucharist. Just as my friend and I were looking for someone to take our photo in front of the church, three young girls, who were around our age, came up to us smiling and with one of their arms extended.

We didn’t speak the same language, but we didn’t have to. We are millennials and we just know what makes a good picture.