At a busy corner in the ZIP Code with the highest number of Obamacare enrollments in the nation — 33012 in Hialeah —demonstrators armed with 30,000 signatures knocked on the door of state Rep. Jose Oliva’s office Thursday hoping to gain his support on the issue that has polarized Florida’s lawmakers: Medicaid expansion.
About 30 people showed up for the rally led by SEIU Local 1991, a union representing 5,000 healthcare workers in the Jackson Health System. They sought to persuade Oliva — who was not in his office — and other House Republicans opposing expansion to change their minds before the start of the legislative special session next week.
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The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, includes a provision to expand Medicaid. Florida is among the 21 states that have not yet chosen to expand it, and a bitter dispute between Republicans in the House and Senate over the issue forced an early end to the regular session.
The groups delivered the signatures, collected over several months from around the state, to Oliva’s second-floor office at a shopping center, urging him to listen to his constituents.
“His constituents are telling him: ‘We want healthcare. We are buying healthcare under the Affordable Care Act,’” said Martha Baker, a nurse and president of the local SEIU, before leaving the petition with Oliva’s secretary.
But his constituents may be sending a mixed message: Although more of them signed up for Obamacare than in other ZIP Code, his district remains staunchly conservative.
Outside, a handful of the 850,000 Floridians who live in the health insurance gap created when expansion was denied spoke of challenges they face because they can’t qualify for coverage.
Isabel Betancourt, a Florida International University student with rheumatoid arthritis in the coverage gap, said doctors’ appointments are a financial juggling game as she tries to handle co-payments, labs and medication costs.
“We are hard-working men and women who are personally being affected by a flawed system.,” Betancourt, 31, said. “We stand confused wondering why Florida has excluded us from the benefits that come from the Affordable Care Act and we want our government to stop bickering at our expense.”
Mariamee Rodriguez, whose 20-year-old daughter, Genesis, is in the gap and battles chronic lung disease, said their lives are a daily struggle without Medicaid expansion.
“Do your job,” she pleaded with lawmakers.
From the crowd, Coconut Grove resident Williams Armbrister shouted out: “Or be replaced.”
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.