Miami-Dade County

Republicans represent Fla. congressional districts with 177K at risk of losing Obamacare subsidies

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents District 27 in Florida, where 86,000 people could lose their Obamacare subsidies if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff in King v. Burwell.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents District 27 in Florida, where 86,000 people could lose their Obamacare subsidies if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff in King v. Burwell. El Nuevo Herald

In Florida, the majority of residents who receive a government subsidy to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act are represented in Congress by Republicans who oppose Obamacare, according to a report released Tuesday by a national consumer advocacy group, Families USA.

Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose districts cover large portions of Miami-Dade, topped the Families USA list of Florida congressional members with the most at stake in the case of King v. Burwell. Combined, the two districts represent 177,000 constituents receiving an average of $52 million a month in total subsidies.

The district with the third-highest number of residents receiving a subsidy under the health law — about 84,000 Floridians — is represented by a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, an advocate of Obamacare.

With the Supreme Court expected to rule this month in a case that could strip subsidies from about 1.3 million Floridians, South Florida’s congressional Republicans are holding firm in their opposition to the health law — while vowing to find a way for their constituents to keep the subsidies that are key to the future of Obamacare.

Florida’s political leadership has presented no back up plan if the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies, so health policy experts say a solution likely will come from Congress.

Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen issued a joint statement Tuesday saying they are working on legislation that will serve as a “transition” and allow Floridians to “keep their premiums” if they lose their Obamacare subsidies. They offered no details on the legislation, but left little doubt where they will place blame if the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, which challenges the legitimacy of subsidies for residents in the 34 states, including Florida, where the federal government runs the insurance exchange.

“We believe our constituents should not be punished for the wrongdoing committed by congressional Democrats and the president — providing Americans subsidies that are illegal,” the statement said. “We agree that we need to address both the short-term issue — the subsidies — and the long-term issue, fixing our healthcare system. We intend on working with our colleagues to fix it.”

Wilson challenged the assertion that Congress has a plan: “Neither Florida nor congressional Republicans have a plan ‘B’ to put in place if all of these people lose their health insurance and there is nothing the administration can do to reverse the damage this will cause.”

Wilson said her constituents in North Miami-Dade and South Broward counties, many of whom are immigrants, can’t afford higher premiums if their tax credits are stripped. Her district includes Hialeah, where more people receive subsidies than anywhere else in the nation.

“I am amazed that members of Congress and the Supreme Court justices are willing to go down in history for stripping healthcare from millions of Americans, and in some cases putting their lives at risk,” Wilson said.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said he would like to see states to establish their own marketplaces, like Pennsylvania, Delaware and Arkansas have done recently.

That solution may be less likely in Florida, whose legislative leaders and governor remained opposed to the ACA despite the health law’s success in enrolling residents.

In the eight congressional districts — 20 through 27 — that cover most of South Florida from Palm Beach County to Monroe County, 622,000 people could lose their subsidies, according to the Families USA report.

The average premium in Florida for an individual receiving a subsidy is $82 a month. If the subsidies are removed, Families USA estimated that those consumers will pay about $3,500 more a year in premiums, which could many to drop their insurance.

“If the court rules against the subsidies,’’ Pollack said, “devastation will strike both healthcare consumers and the healthcare system at large.’’

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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