Big stakes in fight over Medicaid

AGAINST MEDICAID EXPANSION: Rep. Richard Coccoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has led the Florida House opposition to expanded healthcare protection for uninsured residents.
AGAINST MEDICAID EXPANSION: Rep. Richard Coccoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has led the Florida House opposition to expanded healthcare protection for uninsured residents. AP

As the elected representative of thousands of Jackson Health System’s nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals, it’s not often I agree with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

But he was absolutely right on the money when he called out Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature for putting our public health system at risk by refusing to give us the healthcare we’ve already paid for.

The years-old debate over the Affordable Care Act is being resolved in state after state in a variety of creative ways. Yet, in Florida, our health, our tax dollars and now our safety-net hospital system are on the line because a small group of powerful leaders refuses to act. At all.

Miami-Dade County voters have proven time and again that they will stand up — and vote — for Jackson, our public healthcare system and the crown jewel of this community. Will we allow Jackson to be threatened by a game of chicken that Scott and House leadership are playing with the feds? This is no game to this community and especially our patients.

The Miami Herald and other media around the state have done an incredibly good job documenting the plight of the thousands who fall into the Medicaid coverage gap. All the polls show most Floridians want this. Healthcare advocates want this. Businesses want this. The federal government is standing there trying to give Florida billions of dollars to expand healthcare.

Because federal funding for hospitals that serve the uninsured is tied to Medicaid expansion, the state’s hospitals stand to lose more than a billion dollars if a solution isn’t reached by June 30.

The hit to Jackson could be as much as $200 million, a devastating blow to a public health system we all worked hard to pull out of the red and into a bright future.

What was Gov. Scott’s response to the crisis his administration has created for our statewide safety net? He proposed to sue the feds and he called into question hospital revenues, attempting to cast doubt on whether hospitals even need the money. That this should come from a governor who bought his election with the profits made from his hospital industry career is so far beyond ironic that it’s become absurd.

The dismissive attitudes of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran are absolutely unconscionable. A group of about 100 healthcare pros from Jackson traveled to Tallahassee earlier this month to call them out on their lack of action.

We brought flip-flops for Gov. Scott, urging him to land on an opinion that actually helps people. And we brought our well-worn sneakers for Corcoran, who had laughed off healthcare-expansion advocates like us as “Gucci-wearing” lobbyists.

I can tell you, there’s not a lot of Gucci on the floors of Jackson. Just thousands of people wearing out their sneakers saving lives, one at a time.

All of us in the trenches of public health give the Florida Senate credit for not only proposing an actual solution, but for refusing to be bullied by an unreasonable minority.

It’s incredible that Scott, Crisafulli and Corcoran are willing to throw the state budget under the bus rather than help their constituents. They want to spend more of our taxpayer dollars in a special session fighting to not help people.

Meanwhile, people without insurance are getting sicker when they shouldn’t have to. Our hospitals are at a real risk of destabilization.

Where’s the upside to any of that?

Maybe only if you’re in the business of privatizing struggling hospitals.

Martha Baker, RN, is president of SEIU Local 1991.