Since early 2010, when Congress passed healthcare reform, Florida Republican leaders have been obsessed with its overthrow. Defeating it was the priority of Gov. Rick Scott. Our last two attorneys general have led the charge in the courts. And the state Legislature did all it could to thwart its implementation.
So now that the most conservative Supreme Court in our nation’s recent history has ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, perhaps it is time to redirect a little of that negative energy used to obstruct reform toward implementing the law and solving Florida’s healthcare crisis.
Lost in all the political posturing over the last two years was what the measure means for Florida, a state where 21 percent of residents lack insurance and where more than half a million children qualify for healthcare only when they are sick enough for an emergency room admission.
Lost in the Republicans’ single-minded, obsessive focus on defeating healthcare reform was any recognition that in our state, millions of children, seniors, young adults and families are without healthcare.
And ironically, lost in their attacks of “Obamacare” was any mention of their own previous failures to address our healthcare crisis. For over a decade, the same Republicans howling loudest against healthcare reform have mismanaged Florida’s health delivery system so much so that we have the third highest rate of uninsured in the nation.
Republican luminaries with names like Bush and Rubio, in firm control of state government, relied solely upon market-based solutions and insurance-friendly regulatory schemes to deliver basic healthcare to Floridians. The result: nearly four million Floridians don’t have healthcare. These are not the very poor or the oldest amongst us, who have Medicaid or Medicare. Rather, they are working Floridians and their kids who simply can’t find an affordable healthcare product.
And there are real and dire consequences. A recent study estimated that in just 2010 alone, more than 2,200 Floridians died because of outcomes related to not having health insurance to prevent or treat illness. That does not calculate higher costs due to untreated illnesses, or the emotional toll it takes on families.
Don’t get me wrong, I get that the federal healthcare bill has its warts, and that it was created in a sausage-making factory, which is never fun to watch. But the preoccupation with repealing it and using it as a political weapon cannot eclipse the need to address the reason it came to be. Especially in Florida, which has a full-blown healthcare crisis.
Florida — more than any other state — is in the sweet spot of what health reform is intended to address. Most people here get their healthcare from their employer, and Florida’s small-business based economy and its reliance on low-wage service industry and construction jobs means most of our employees have no access to affordable insurance. The healthcare bill addresses that problem head-on through creation of healthcare exchanges.
The bill does lots of other things that Floridians desperately need and that insurance companies hate. A pre-existing condition is no longer a basis to deny insurance, and already 224,000 of Florida’s young adults are receiving coverage under their parents’ policies until age 26. A quarter million of Florida’s seniors are already getting help with the prescription drug payments to alleviate the dreaded “donut hole,” because of the law. Two and a half million of us have received preventive services, like mammograms and colonoscopies, without any co-pay; and over a million Floridians are getting significant insurance rebates because their private insurance companies spent too much on administrative or marketing expenses instead of actual care.
And the much-maligned “individual mandate,” in truth a Republican concept in it’s inception, simply requires folks who can afford insurance to take care of their own healthcare so the rest of us won’t have to pay for them. Who do you think foots the bill when the uninsured need charity care or check into a Florida safety net hospital for free care? Just look at your property tax bill to see who’s paying for that free lunch. A thousand bucks of a family’s health insurance premium goes to excess cost due to covering the uninsured.
Yes, there is no question Floridians desperately need the type of reforms provided for in the healthcare bill.
So after Republican politicians and operatives finish spinning their failure and FOX News returns to “important” issues like President Obama’s birth certificate, it’s time for Gov. Scott to get to work and enthusiastically embrace and implement healthcare reform.Dan Gelber, a lawyer, was a state senator and former House Democratic leader from Miami.