Florida isn’t just a battleground state for presidential elections; it’s ground zero in the nation’s Obamacare wars.
It’s all about demographics. And geographics.
Retiree-heavy Florida has a surplus of voting seniors nervous about Obamacare’s changes. But Hispanics — the state’s least-insured but fastest-growing population — tend to support the Affordable Care Act.
The fourth-most populous in the nation, Florida is the most-diverse political swing state and has the nation’s second-highest rate of the uninsured, nearly 25 percent.
Active Democratic voters, who outnumber Republicans by more than 500,000, learned last year from President Obama’s campaign that the law can be a political plus — especially among Hispanics — after it was a millstone in 2010.
Republicans control the state power structure, and have fought Obamacare in court, with new laws, at the ballot box and on TV.
Two of the most-recognizable Republican figures in the fight against the act: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott, who’s up for reelection next year and launched his political career four years ago by founding a group opposed to Obamacare.
So 2014 could become a political tie breaker over the Affordable Care Act, which has remained unpopular overall in Florida since its passage.
“Florida is ground zero for Obamacare,” said John Anzalone, President Obama’s Florida pollster. “If you take a look at all of Florida’s natural constituencies, you have seniors… You have minority communities, including Hispanics.”
“And you have areas of the state, like Fort Myers, that were heavily impacted by the recession,” he said. “Also, Miami-Dade is a heckuva lot different than the Tampa area. And then you have North Florida, which is really Southern.”
The travel schedule of the Obama Administration’s top health official, Kathleen Sebelius, attests to Florida’s importance.
Sebelius has been to Florida five times since June — more than any other large state, in large part because the state refuses to help set up health-insurance marketplaces. So the federal government has to do it. Sebelius has also repeatedly visited GOP-led Texas, which has the nation’s highest uninsured rate at 25 percent, also has refused to go along with Obamacare.
Called insurance “exchanges,” the online marketplaces — including Spanish-language ones Sebelius touted Tuesday in Miami — are designed to help provide policies to individuals who are now mandated to buy coverage or pay a penalty tax.
The exchanges go online Oct. 1. Sept. 30, is another deadline: The end of the federal government’s budget year. Gridlocked Congress hasn’t passed a new budget, requiring a temporary one, called a continuing resolution, to be passed.
But Rubio, joining Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, has helped pressure House Republicans to refuse to support a resolution that doesn’t temporarily defund Obamacare. On Friday, the House voted largely along party lines to defund it — the 42nd anti-Obamacare vote in the chamber. Democrats and White House officials say they won’t budge, increasing the likelihood of a government shut-down and possible credit downgrade.