Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Florida House Republicans ignore plight of uninsured

Gov. Rick Scott carries a green sea turtle to be released into the ocean on Monday at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, Fla. Three endangered loggerhead sea turtles and a green sea turtle were released by the Miami Seaquarium.
Gov. Rick Scott carries a green sea turtle to be released into the ocean on Monday at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, Fla. Three endangered loggerhead sea turtles and a green sea turtle were released by the Miami Seaquarium. AP

If radical Florida House Republicans — and out-to-lunch, hold-a-turtle-for-a-photo-op Gov. Rick Scott — weren’t so ideologically predisposed to ignorance on scientific issues, they might be able to diagnose their paralysis of the frontal lobe, the area of the brain tasked with critical thinking and decision making, when it comes to health care.

For them, only a certain kind of money makes sense: One is cash-cow money from the well-insured (including legislators with family “Cadillac” health insurance packages subsidized by taxpayers) who make for-profit hospitals, like the one Scott once ran, wealthier. Another is rich people’s political contributions, preferably funneled in staggering amounts through various entities and via the practice of “hobbies,” like hunting in Texas with people who have business before them.

But accepting billions of dollars from the Obama Administration to expand health care to the poor, the uninsured, and the unemployed and underemployed?

That’s dirty money to the Florida House Republicans who are paralyzing state government after Friday’s latest rejection of a bipartisan Senate compromise to bring billions in Medicaid expansion money. But health care money has got to come from somewhere — and guess what? It’s not in state coffers.

Federal dollars are our tax money, too, but once again, they’re not coming to Florida, thanks to these tremendously principled legislators who plotted their strategy to resist Obama money behind closed doors in possible violation of the Sunshine Law.

And guess who will still get to pay the bill for the 850,000 uninsured Floridians too poor to afford insurance and not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid?

Why, the rest of us: the local taxpayer, the insured, and those who receive state services that will need to be cut to make up for the lack of federal dollars. Who else could possibly pick up the health care tab?

A man who needs his toe amputated isn’t going anywhere but the nearest public hospital to get the treatment he needs for diabetes. The uninsured pregnant woman is going to deliver that baby there, too, whether you want to pay for it or not. And by the way, you also will be paying for the care of that baby and his mom’s recuperation. That’s nine months of pre-natal care, delivery, and post-op.

And so on.

With their stubborn, organized rejection of federal funds — needed more than ever with the Low Income Pool federal dollars expiring — the House insured the continuation of the costly status quo: A pattern of uninsured emergency care that costs more than a preventive plan.

The way Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, spins the issue, the Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion is not ideological but a mathematical equation. God knows how much it’ll cost down the line to accept federal dollars and expand care, Fresen explained in a WLRN interview.

It must be hard to figure out the value of getting $51.3 billion over a 10-year period to help people afford health care. What will happen after that? Who knows? Maybe Florida will be not only uninsured, but also under water.

What could possibly make South Florida legislators vote against their constituents in a hot spot of need?

It’s simple: Political ambition.

Coming down hard on the disenfranchised has become the way to get elected. To win statewide office, the southern Republicans who live in a Democratic majority area need to align themselves with the predominantly conservative north end of the state. You can tell where the conservative heart begins to pump when you’re driving on the Turnpike or I-95 and start seeing pictures of embryos on billboards.

And the caravan is following the Marco Rubio trail of conservative issues to prominence in the Florida Legislature with an eye toward a congressional seat, or the governorship, and who knows, maybe a bid for the White House.

That 2016 presidential election is another reason Florida Republicans won’t give an inch. They don’t want the Affordable Care Act to be a success for the Democrats, never mind that it already is for people with pre-existing conditions and parents who need to keep their millennial children on their insurance policies longer, among others.

The House’s stubbornness is even sadder in light of a study released Monday showing that 20 of the 50 hospitals that charge the most for their services are located in Florida. All but one are for-profit hospitals and include the infamous HCA group Scott once presided over, which was charged with corporate fraud.

Who wants to expand medical care to the working poor when the rich and able and their top-notch insurance companies are willing to pay marked-up prices?

Scott evoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times, protecting himself against self-incrimination, when he was asked in court in the 1990s about millions in bogus charges and fake diagnoses for Medicare patients treated at Columbia/HCA facilities.

Perhaps that explains why we find the climate-change-phobic governor either opposing any plan to help the uninsured or running away from the Tallahassee conversation to Key Biscayne, where he played, costume and all, the role of environmentalist, releasing back to nature a rehabilitated turtle.

If only he cared at least that much for Floridians when the cameras aren’t eagerly clicking. 

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