Union appeals to voters in the Medicaid ‘coverage gap’

04/11/2014 7:00 PM

04/11/2014 9:22 PM

The state healthcare workers’ union has a new strategy in its fight to expand Medicaid coverage: reaching out to voters “who’ve been screwed out of healthcare coverage by their representative’s refusal to act.”

SEIU Florida will be knocking on doors this weekend in four state House districts.

The targeted lawmakers include Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah; Erik Fresen of Miami, Kathleen Peters of St. Petersburg and Bill Hager of Delray Beach.

Each lawmakers represents more than 4,600 residents who are missing out on coverage, according to an analysis by the union.

“It’s time to bring this issue right down into each neighborhood, so people understand exactly what they and their friends, family and neighbors are losing because their elected representative has chosen politics over people,” said Martha Baker, vice president of SEIU Florida and a nurse at Jackson Health System in Miami.

The GOP lawmakers say their position on Medicaid expansion is not driven by politics. Diaz, for one, said he opposes the policy because he does not believe it will improve most Floridians’ access to quality healthcare.

“It’s unfortunate that a labor union that is concerned about making money attacks elected officials that stand on principle for their constituents,” he said Friday.

Medicaid expansion has been among the most controversial topics in the Legislature.

Last year, the state Senate unanimously approved a bill that would have allowed federal Medicaid expansion dollars to buy private insurance policies for poor Floridians. The House, meanwhile, voted to reject $51 billion in federal Medicaid funding.

A Medicaid expansion bill similar to last year’s proposal in the Senate has stalled this year.

Hoping to apply pressure on lawmakers, SEIU Florida used Census and commercial figures to calculate the number of Floridians in the “coverage gap” in each state House district. The coverage gap includes people in Florida who don’t qualify for Medicaid, but make too little to qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance on the federal exchange.

SEIU puts the total number of Floridians in the gap at about 720,000.

The three lawmakers with the most constituents in the coverage gap are all from South Florida: Democratic Rep. Cynthia Stafford (11,496); Democratic Rep. Daphne Campbell (11,412) and Republican Rep. Manny Diaz (11,334).

Diaz is among the four lawmakers in the SEIU’s sights. The other three are Republicans who SEIU deems vulnerable in the 2014 election.

SEIU says Peters has 4,644 residents who have been “short-changed by the politics in Tallahassee.”

Peters said she felt she was being unfairly targeted. “This is just one group pushing their agenda through a negative campaign,” she said. “Any kind of statement that I’m not a caring person is just not true.”

Fresen, who was estimated to have 7,577 residents in the coverage gap, declined to comment.

Last year, SEIU produced TV ads targeted at half-dozen GOP lawmakers in Democratic-leaning districts.

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