Tempers are hot and passions are running wild across Florida as the governor and legislature go back and forth, up and down on the topic of whether or not to expand Medicaid expansion to all families under 138 percent of he Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and every legal citizen under 100 percent of FPL, using federal funds. It has pit Democrats against Republicans, Senate against the House, and even the governor, Rick Scott, against the Speaker of the House, Will Weatherford (Marco Rubio's old job). The drama in Tallahassee and the concerns of the state are clashing, and the people are wondering who will benefit and who will not when this debate ends.
I spoke to several engaged Floridians in the Tampa Bay area, who expressed their concerns.
Gary Gibbons, Tampa attorney and community activist, stated:
"The Florida Legislature is so ideologically transfixed to be opposed to anything related to "Obamacare" that they can't say "yes" to federal dollars that would keep people healthy (or alive). But, it's worse than that. They want the money, but are foolish enough to think that they can create their own system that will function better than Medicaid. So, rather than utilize the Medicaid system that has been in existence since the 1960's with its recognized fee structures, claim forms, and known provider networks, they prefer to tinker with the idea of creating something brand new. The Chairman of the House Subcommittee who was instrumental in killing the bill in Committee, Rep. Richard Corcoran, was quoted as saying that building an alternative to Medicaid "is like building a house." Except that it is nothing like building a house. This is what you get with part-time legislators who are elected and re-elected from gerrymandered districts and who always vote in lockstep with their GOP leadership in Florida. Alan Grayson was right. 'Don't Get Sick. And if you do, die quickly.'"
Kofi Hunt, a progressive health care advocate from St. Petersburg said, "Medicaid Expansion is one of the greatest advancements in coverage of health care in our country's history. Activists will be encouraged to work extra hard to unelect anyone who votes against it in the 2014 elections."
Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice commented:
"The Governor, in this case, is absolutely right. How can you look at the millions of people in Florida who could benefit from this, and not take that opportunity to give them service and to give them healthcare? Granted, the Federal funds will start to decrease down to 90 percent after three years, but is three years of healthcare not worth anything? If you're sick, can you get to a doctor today? Isn't that worth something?... To be able to provide that basic level of safety net for these people, that is worth doing."
Russell Patterson, Hillsborough County District School teacher, added:
"We need to do something, rather than having people go to Emergency Rooms for medical care. It would be much better and cheaper for our society, private industry, and hospitals if we had something like the Medicaid Expansion so people can actually go to a primary care doctor when they have ear aches, when they have sore throats, when their child has a high fever, rather than having to go to the Emergency Room and clog that up, and make it harder for folks who have real emergencies to getting decent care quickly."
Monique Zimmerman, advocate for blind adults and children from Wesley Chapel, expressed her concerns over the Florida Plan especially when it comes to using the Healthy Kids program for administration:
"My two daughters, who have Stickler's Syndrome, were enrolled in Kid Care. It worked fairly well, but we did have some problems finding the specialists they needed. However, we noticed some problems in the administration of the program, including dropping them when they were eligible, and having to get refunds when they left the program and they still were collecting the monthly premiums for several months. I worry that they may not be able to expand from the current enrollment of 232,359 to as much as 1.2 million clients. However, I am glad that the Senate committee decided to find an alternative plan, rather than just turning down Medicaid Expansion without any solid idea on how to move forward, like the Florida House. I hope the House will give the Senate Plan consideration."
Finally, Terry R. Watson, health care and political activist in Tampa, asked:
"How does the state of Florida, with a quarter of its residents uninsured, possibly turn down an opportunity to extend Medicaid coverage to over a million of its residents? Coverage that will not cost the state a cent for the next three years? Is it because every additional person covered makes it that much harder to eventually dismantle our social safety net?"
Good question, Terry.
It seems that all eyes in Florida and across the country are watching to find out.