In Florida, Wasserman-Schultz responds to GOP attacks on health law

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a breast cancer survivor, used her personal experience Thursday to fire back at Republicans for their attacks on the Obama administration’s health reform program.

Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston, said during a news conference at Borinquen Medical Centers in Miami that putting sick people in the situation of having to worry about whether they can afford healthcare instead of focusing on getting well is “unacceptable.” She called those who would deprive them of peace of mind “immoral.” Under the Affordable Care Act, pre-existing conditions cannot be used to increase premiums or deny coverage.

Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, also accused insurance companies of playing “a bit of three-handed monte” — a reference to a trick card game — for selling insurance plans they knew ahead of time would be cancelled with implementation of the ACA. Hundreds of thousands of Floridians recently received letters from their insurance companies saying they will need to enroll in new health plans that meet ACA requirements, despite President Obama’s promise that, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.”

“The Republicans are engaged in a civil war. They’re trying to take away the peace of mind that coverage is available,” Wasserman Schultz said.

To counter criticisms about the cost of the new health plans, which under the law must offer certain benefits and cover everyone, Wasserman Schultz cited the cases of three South Floridians.

Jason Conner, a health benefits consultant for Borinquen, enrolled in coverage using the online marketplace because he’s self-employed. Single and 29, with an income above the range at which he would qualify for a federal subsidy to help cover his insurance costs, Conner said he had been paying $1,200 a month for a plan with a $5,000 deductible because of a pre-existing condition that he controls with over-the-counter medication. He chose a Blue Cross Blue Shield platinum plan with a $350 monthly premium, no deductible, and maximum out-of-pocket expenses of about $2,100.

The plan covers 90 percent of his medical costs, leaving Conner with only 10 percent of the bill. It also allows him to choose from a network of providers in Philadelphia, where his consultancy is based, and in Florida, where he spends considerable time.

“I just wanted to be covered and not have to worry,” he said.

A 50-year-old breast cancer survivor from Plantation, Carolyn Newman was one of those who received a letter from Florida Blue advising she would need to enroll in a new health plan on Jan. 1. The letter offered her a new plan with the same benefits as her old one, plus a lower deductible and no lifetime limits, for $640 a month — about half of her current monthly rate of $1,270.

Miriam Romero, 61, who retired from her Miami-Dade County job of 29 years as a pre-kindergarten teacher, has been uninsured since August because she couldn’t afford a $350-a-month health plan when her COBRA coverage ran out. A diabetic, Romero came to Borinquen for help finding coverage because she doesn’t have a computer. Assisted by a Certified Application Counselor, she chose the lowest-cost plan offered in Miami-Dade for someone her age: a high-deductible Bronze HMO plan costing $136 a month.

Romero’s new health plan also reflects a little-known feature of the ACA that requires insurance companies who sell plans on the healthcare marketplace to include a small percentage of Federally Qualified Health Centers in their plans. In Romero’s case, Borinquen will be part of her Coventry provider network.

While acknowledging the problems of the buggy website, Schultz pointed to the “great interest” in the new healthcare opportunities that Borinquen’s outreach efforts have generated. Borinquen staff members say the center has educated over 2,500 people about their options under the health law since Oct. 1 — but it has only been able to enroll about seven of them online because of’s technical problems.

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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