Miami-Dade County

South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce calls for Medicaid expansion

Liliam Lopez, President and CEO of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, speaks at the Latino Health and Wellness Expo in Miami Friday to urge the Florida House of Representatives to pass a Senate proposal that would expand Medicaid and cover 850,000 uninsured Floridians.
Liliam Lopez, President and CEO of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, speaks at the Latino Health and Wellness Expo in Miami Friday to urge the Florida House of Representatives to pass a Senate proposal that would expand Medicaid and cover 850,000 uninsured Floridians. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The push for Medicaid expansion has reached Miami, where the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce gathered Friday to urge constituents to contact their representatives in the Florida House and urge them to accept a plan that would bring health coverage to 850,000 uninsured Floridians.

At the chamber’s Latino Health and Wellness Expo, members of the chamber and other prominent South Florida groups spoke to a small group about the need to close the coverage gap, a health insurance limbo in which consumers make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to receive financial assistance toward a health plan under the Affordable Care Act.

Expanding Medicaid would mean those in the coverage gap would qualify for the low-income healthcare program.

“There are many people that are suffering because Medicaid expansion has not been approved in the last couple of years,” said Liliam Lopez, CEO and president of the chamber. “Those thousands of people that are in the gap need us.”

Jared Nordlund, senior strategist with the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group, said that according to a poll the organization conducted in October, 78 percent of Latinos supported Medicaid expansion. About 66 percent said they would support a candidate who supports the expansion of the program.

“At a time when up to six people per day are dying because they cannot afford healthcare, it’s time to stop playing political games and put people first,” Nordlund said, as several of those in the crowd nodded.

The chamber’s declaration comes after a stalemate during Florida’s legislative session over Medicaid expansion. The Senate has advanced a plan to accept $2.8 billion in Medicaid money to close the coverage gap, but the House refuses to consider the plan. With just a week left in the session, an extended or special session seems likely to address the issue.

Betty Alonso, CEO and President of ConnectFamilias, an organization that helps residents find community services, said that the coverage gap has affected many of those she works with in the communities of Little Havana, Flagami and Allapattah.

“These are people that are doing everything they can to do right, to give back to their communities,” Alonso told the crowd. “These are the people that are most suffering.”

Access to healthcare is key, she said in a separate interview, to improving lives in South Florida.

“There is a reason we all have insurance and we walk around with our insurance cards in our wallet because we understand that life may happen,” Alonso said. “We are playing politics with peoples lives and we can’t keep doing that.”

Follow @MHhealth for health news from South Florida and around the nation.

This story was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation

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