ALBANY — New Yorkers won't have to pay to be vaccinated for coronavirus and there will be "no political favoritism" in determining how the doses are allocated, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Health insurance companies are expected to be directed by the state Department of Financial Services to cover all costs of administering the shots to New Yorkers.
Cuomo's statement that the shots will be made available without charge is consistent with earlier suggestions by officials involved in the Operation Warp Speed federal vaccine distribution program that the intention is to require no payment for the doses.
Meanwhile, new details of the state's vaccination blueprint emerged, with officials revealing New York will rely on 10 regional hubs to coordinate the distribution of the vaccines and to craft plans tailored to meet the needs of local populations.
"You’re dealing with the North Country and that’s different than when you’re dealing with New York City," Cuomo observed.
The hubs, which will work with community leaders in their regions, were identified as follows:
Western New York: Catholic Health System.
North Country: Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.
Mohawk Valley: Mohawk Valley Medical Center
Southern Tier: United Health Services
Capital Region: Albany Medical Center
Finger Lakes: University of Rochester Medical Center
Central New York: SUNY Upstate Medical Center
Mid-Hudson: Westchester Medical Center
New York City: Greater New York Hospital Association
Long Island: Northwell Health Systems
The hubs are expected to be ready to handle the second phase of vaccine distribution — getting the doses to essential workers and persons who may be vulnerable to the virus because of a medical condition.
The first phase commenced this week, with front-line hospital staffers and nursing home workers and patients being given top priority.
The state has received some 87,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and is expected to get 346,000 of the Moderna vaccine next week, once it is approved by the federal government. An additional 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to arrive in New York later this month. The latter shots are expected to be used at nursing homes.
All decisions on determining the sequence of people who get the vaccine will be made by public health experts, Cuomo said.
"If you remember with the COVID testing, there was a lot of back and forth about who got it first and was there favoritism, etc.," he said. "Medical professionals are going to administer Phase II by state guidelines. It's a medical procedure. It will be handled by medical professionals. There will be no political favoritism, etc."
With a recent statewide surge in COVID-19 infections and heightened concerns that hospitals are being stretched thin to deal with a spike in admissions, the state is considering additional restrictions on businesses if intensive care unit rooms become scarce.
Against that backdrop, the state Labor Department indicated the economy was recovering strongly enough to allow for a continuation in the slated progression of increases in the state minimum wage.
The minimum pay upstate is expected to climb to $12.50 per hour upstate on Dec. 31. The current upstate minimum is $11.80 per hour.
"This investment in our workers once again proves that in New York we believe a fair day's work deserves a fair day’s pay," Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, a Cuomo appointee, said in a statement.
Greg Biryla, state director of the National Federation for Independent Business, said many restaurants, bars and retail have been forced to close due to the slow economy
“Any argument that New York State’s economy — regardless of region — will be in any condition to absorb a wage escalation in January requires the suspension of logic," Biryla said.
State Senate Republicans also voiced their opposition to boosting the minimum wage, saying a pause should be put on the coming increase.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com