Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade House Democrats, Jackson employees rally for Medicaid expansion

Longtime Jackson Health System registered nurses Lisa Ward, left, and Barbara Scollon, center, hold hand-lettered signs during a press conference and rally supporting Medicaid expansion, on Friday, May 8, 2015 on the main Jackson campus in Miami.
Longtime Jackson Health System registered nurses Lisa Ward, left, and Barbara Scollon, center, hold hand-lettered signs during a press conference and rally supporting Medicaid expansion, on Friday, May 8, 2015 on the main Jackson campus in Miami. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Democratic state representatives and Jackson Health System nurses and doctors on Friday called for Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott and House leaders, to expand Medicaid healthcare coverage for more low-income Floridians and also preserve a federal program that funds hospitals that treat large numbers of uninsured patients.

The rally — hosted by Jackson’s labor union for doctors and nurses, SEIU 1991, in front of the state’s busiest public hospital, Jackson Memorial — drew more than 100 hospital employees and at least eight House Democrats and two Senate Democrats who support a plan approved by the Republican-controlled Florida Senate but rejected by House leaders.

The plan would expand Florida’s restrictive eligibility criteria for Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled, and renew a hospital funding program called the Low Income Pool, or LIP, that provides about $1.3 billion a year for hospitals but is set to expire on June 30.

The healthcare issue is at the center of a stalemate between the two chambers that led House leaders to abruptly end the legislative session on April 28 without adopting a budget — the one job they are constitutionally required to complete.

Florida Rep. Daphne Campbell, who is a registered nurse and represents North Miami and Little Haiti, blamed the impasse on partisan politics and a deep dislike among House leaders of President Barack Obama.

“If you have a problem with Obama, don’t make one million people suffer,’’ she said, referring to Floridians who do not qualify for subsidies to make a private plan more affordable under Obamacare but who are not eligible for Medicaid in Florida.

According to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit health policy research group, an estimated 850,000 Floridians would be eligible for Medicaid if state legislators were to adopt an expansion plan to cover nearly all low-income adults.

Martha Baker, a registered nurse and president of SEIU 1991, urged the crowd gathered in a courtyard at Jackson Memorial to “take the fight” to Tallahassee and champion healthcare “the way we do it at Jackson: equal healthcare for all.”

Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, said the standoff in Tallahassee was due to “a failure in leadership” by Scott, who has filed a lawsuit against the federal government accusing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of coercing Florida into adopting Medicaid expansion by refusing to renew LIP.

This week, Scott traveled to Washington to meet with the HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to negotiate a renewal of the LIP program, but he returned to Florida without an agreement. On Thursday, Scott filed an injunction asking a judge to prevent the federal government from ending the LIP program on June 30.

HHS informed Florida in April 2014 that the LIP program would not be renewed after June 30. But Scott’s budget proposal for 2015 included about $1.3 billion in LIP money.

Since then, federal health officials have said they will not allow LIP dollars to be used to pay for healthcare for those who would qualify for Medicaid under expansion.

A special session has been called for June 1-20 to hammer out a budget, though state leaders may not know by then whether federal officials will renew the LIP program. Jackson, Miami-Dade’s public hospital network, stands to lose more than $200 million a year without the program, more than any other hospital in the state. Jackson CEO Carlos Migoya did not attend the rally.

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