The South Florida Sun Sentinel
By Robert Weiner and Evan Baumel
The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted for the 55th time to defund or repeal the Affordable Care Act. The repeals would reverse coverage of pre-existing conditions, family plans that include children up to age 26, lifetime benefits, preventive care (including colonoscopies and mammograms,) and a requirement that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of premiums on benefits, with a rebate to consumers if less. The repeal votes do not replace these provisions. Happily, the Senate has ignored the House.
Florida's response to the ACA is equally baffling. For over a year, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature have been playing politics -- not allowing the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, even though it would be paid with federal funds, not the state's 800,000 Floridians, 20 percent of all uninsured in the state, could receive care if Medicaid were expanded as the law allows.
The excuse many GOP leaders make when they reject Medicaid expansion is future costs. Yet fewer federal funds have placed tremendous burdens on Florida hospitals. That's the reason hospital company president-turned Governor Rick Scott initially supported Medicaid expansion, before his Republican base twisted him into a pretzel. Medical facilities pass the uninsured's costs to taxpayers through higher prices, or go out of business. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell recently released a study confirming hospitals in the 27 states that expanded Medicaid had more paying customers and fewer uninsured, saving $4 billion. Medicaid coverage will significantly reduce the "free-rider" phenomenon.
Opponents rely on other false myths, as well, to distract voters from inaction that denies coverage:
State Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, told a Congressional committee that the ACA "leads to higher costs." The fact is, health care prices were rising at 6 percent annually for 20 years prior to the law's passage and has dropped to just over 1 percent since passage.
Opponents often state the law is a "job killer," as employers are forced to comply with requirements. How providing health care to the projected 24 million new beneficiaries by 2016 will reduce jobs instead of expanding job growth -- and how expanding the benefits will reduce rather than expand the need for health professionals -- is simply untrue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the health care sector will add five million new jobs in the next decade. Headlines around the country from Sacramento to DC are exclaiming, "Health Care Jobs Surging in Region, Affordable Care Act Drives Growth." Florida opponents should take note.
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has said the insurance mandate puts citizens "on the hook for billions that we currently do not have." In fact, it created a marketplace where citizens can review prices and plans and pick the best deal.
Nearly one million Floridians have signed up through the federal exchange, and another million uninsured are eligible. The market-based approach is precisely what economists and conservative politicians--from Bob Dole to Richard Nixon -- have long argued is necessary to increase competition.
The partisanship of ACA's opponents remains a key obstacle for millions of Floridians and people across the nation to receive the care they need. Florida voters must make clear to the governor and the Legislature that expanding Medicaid is not only a moral choice, but an economic one for patients and hospitals. They must also tell their U.S. representatives that more votes to repeal and defund the ACA, catering to insurance companies, are not in their interest.
Robert Weiner is former chief of staff of the House Committee on Aging and Subcommittee on Health under Rep. Claude Pepper (D-FL) and former White House National Drug Policy spokesman. Evan Baumel, a Wellington resident, is Senior Economic Policy Analyst at Robert Weiner Associates.