The tea party governor now says he wants to expand Medicaid. The Republican Legislature isn’t so sure.
Hanging in the balance?
Access to healthcare for 1 million or more poor Floridians.
Billions of dollars in federal money.
The state budget, which already pumps $21 billion a year into care.
Florida’s Medicaid system today serves more than 3 million people, about one in every six Floridians. The decision whether to expand the system by a full third will be made by men and women in suits in Tallahassee’s mural-filled chambers this spring.
But the impact is elsewhere, in children’s hospitals in Tampa and Miami, in doctors’ offices in New Port Richey and in the home of a woman who recently lost her full-time teaching job.
The Suddenly uninsured
This was not how she envisioned her 60s.
Jean Vincent dreamed of turning her five-bedroom home into a bed and breakfast. She painted murals on walls, created mosaics on floors and let her imagination guide the interior decorating. There is a “garden” room, a “bamboo” room and a “canopy” room.
In 2010, Vincent lost her full-time job teaching in Citra north of Ocala. Her mother became sick with cancer and needed around-the-clock care before dying in August. Then, doctors began prescribing Vincent costly medications to treat osteoporosis and early-onset diabetes.
“I started getting a little behind with my mortgage,” said Vincent, 61. “All of a sudden, I found out I had to have an emergency retina eye surgery.”
Today, Vincent is searching for roommates to move into her home and help pay the bills. She begs Gainesville’s Sante Fe Community College and City College to schedule her for as many classes as she can handle as an adjunct geography professor; this semester’s four is the most she’s ever had.
But her biggest worry? Not having comprehensive healthcare.
Vincent — who is too young for Medicare — is enrolled in CHOICES, a health services program the Alachua County government created for the uninsured. It covers preventative care like her flu shots and helps with her drug therapy. But if Vincent ever got so sick she needed to go to the hospital, she’d be on her own.
Under current Florida law, adults with no dependents are not eligible to participate in Medicaid no matter how little they make. Vincent’s four children are all grown, which means even as her income has dwindled she can’t become eligible for the health insurance program run jointly by the federal and state governments.
If Florida decides to expand the Medicaid system, people in Vincent’s position for the first time could be covered.
The expansion would allow any single adult making about $16,000 a year eligible for Medicaid.
On the matter, Vincent has become an activist. She joined with patient rights group Florida CHAIN and traveled to Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers.
“When I gave my testimony, that’s all I wanted them to do was see there were people out there that weren’t just trying to take advantage of the system,” she said.
This summer, she expects to only be assigned one class at Sante Fe. That will provide about $2,000 for her to live on for three months. Meanwhile, her retirement dreams are put on hold.