Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Queens), Chairman of the Council Committee on Oversight and Investigations, along with Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the Taxi Workers Alliance, released over the weekend the findings of a survey Gioia conducted which found that taxi drivers have a 52% uninsurance rate- more than twice as high as the average New Yorker.

The survey also found that nearly 37% of taxi drivers with children had no health insurance. The one-year Gioia study of 314 cab drivers took place between 2008 and 2009.  Gioia proposed a three-point plan to help New York City’s 25,000 driver’s live healthier lives.

“Taxi drivers are the invisible face of New York’s transit- and my study found they are also potentially among the most unhealthy,” said Councilman Gioia. “Every day, thousands of taxi drivers go to work without health insurance, despite working a stressful and unhealthy job. Taxi drivers are essentially a part of our public transportation system – making the city run – and yet unlike public employees, they have no guarantee of health care.  We need to do more.”

“Drivers suffer 60- to 70-hour back-breaking work weeks and are vulnerable to injury from assaults and accidents at a higher rate than any other workforce.  It’s unconscionable that workers whose working conditions directly lead to deteriorating health are the very ones who remain uninsured at a higher rate,” said Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance

According to the results of a survey by Councilman Gioia, 52% of the more than 300 taxi drivers interviewed had no health insurance, more than twice the percentage citywide. Gioia’s study also found:

·         Of those taxi drivers with health insurance, 24% were covered by their spouse–not because they had their own health plan.

·         The estimated cost of uncompensated care for taxi drivers without insurance is approximately $13 million per year.

·         45% of taxi drivers who visited the hospital in the past year had no health insurance.

·         44% of taxi drivers who take prescription medication have no health insurance.

·         Of taxi drivers surveyed who had both a doctor’s visit and a stay in the hospital in the last year—a group particularly in need of insurance and prescription drugs—41% were without insurance.

In order to help taxi drivers live healthier lives, Gioia proposed a three point plan to help fix the chronic uninsurance and health issues which taxi drivers face:

·         Conduct On-site Enrollment For Taxi Drivers: The city should work to ensure that every driver who qualifies for public health insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid and Family Health Plus, is enrolled by conducting on-site healthcare enrollment at locations taxi drivers congregate. The TLC and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene should also team up to do regular health surveys of drivers to help identify the short- and long-term health effects of driving a taxi in New York City.

·         Driver Insurance: If current comprehensive healthcare reform efforts in Congress fail to create a way to cover taxi drivers and similar workers who do not have insurance, the City should explore an industry-sponsored health fund for taxi drivers.

·         Provide On-Site Access to Health Services: The City and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey should partner with New York’s public and private hospitals to provide on-site preventative and primary care services at sites where taxi drivers congregate, like JFK and LaGuardia airports, along with providing small exercise facilities for taxi drivers at areas which can support them.

Studies have found that driving a taxi can be very a very unhealthy profession. A report by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that taxi drivers face many health-related issues, including little access to quality health care, few chances to eat healthy meals, and multiple chronic health issues.  The UCLA study, which surveyed 302 Los Angeles cab drivers, found:

·         49% reported that they had back pain severe enough to interfere with daily activities;

·         40% had leg problems, including swollen legs and “left leg limp”; and

·         34% reported eye problems.

“Left leg limp” is a syndrome that, according to UCLA, appears to be caused by infrequent use of the left leg, since the right is used for driving and braking while the left maintains little use during the day. In total, more than half those surveyed had medically diagnosed back and leg problems. More than half of those taxi drivers surveyed in Los Angeles were found to be suffering from severe or extremely severe stress during their day because of the conditions they faced, leading to heart attacks and other heart ailments. Long hours in traffic also lead to lung diseases like asthma.  Additionally, due to long hours with lack of access to bathrooms, drivers often develop bladder disorders.

Jose Batallei, who has been driving for 22 years, has health insurance through his wife. He said that in addition to improved health insurance, he also expressed his wish to remove the partitions between the front seats that many taxis have, as they can obstruct the view of the rear view mirror and can cause accidents.

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