In Florida, a missed opportunity

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Dedicated to affordable, quality healthcare and coverage for all Americans.

By Consumers Union on Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

What seemed like a long shot – covering a million uninsured Floridians – quickly became a real possibility in February when Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced his support for expanding Medicaid coverage with significant financial help from the Affordable Care Act.  But high hopes turned to major disappointment when the legislative session ended without a plan to extend coverage to all low-income Floridians.

The case for expanding healthcare is a good one. Over the next 10 years, Florida can gain $51 billion in federal funds at a cost of just $3 billion to the state. Over 1 million uninsured residents would gain coverage, and the ripple effects would be substantial, with an estimated 65,000 new jobs.

Even those currently insured stand to benefit. Local property taxes that now pay for the uninsured could be diverted or even reduced. Health insurance premiums that are constantly forced upward by unpaid hospital bills will see relief. And hospitals won’t face the burden of trying to pay for care for a constant stream of uninsured people often using the emergency department for non-emergency care.

Florida doctors, hospitals, businesses, religious leaders, community groups, and countless others supported the plan. But the state Legislature failed to act, and now Floridians face the consequences: a growing uninsured population that will strain health services and state and local budgets.

But it didn’t have to be this way.  The Florida Senate made significant progress when it voted 38-1 in support of Sen. Joe Negron’s “Healthy Florida” plan to use the available federal funds to provide private insurance coverage to low-income working residents. But this bipartisan, private-market solution wasn’t enough for Republicans in the House of Representatives, who voted it down with just one Republican member crossing political lines to support the plan.

As an alternative, Republicans in the Florida House supported a plan that would have used state money to cover a paltry 115,000 residents — almost 1 million less than Sen. Negron’s proposal.

As the legislative session ended, politics prevailed over people, and Florida missed a rare opportunity to improve the state’s healthcare system to the benefit of all residents — both uninsured and insured.

In October, Americans nationwide will begin enrolling in health insurance exchanges — marketplaces for buying health coverage — and expanded Medicaid programs made possible by the Affordable Care Act.

But in Florida, if you’re a lower-income worker and don’t have coverage from your job, like Michael in Port Charlotte, you may very well be left out unless state lawmakers decide they are open to coming up with new solutions. The federal funds are still available to Florida to help cover the uninsured, but time is running out.

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