Tampa Bay residents passionately urge Bill Nelson to keep fighting for Obamacare - Florida Politics

Tampa Bay residents passionately urge Bill Nelson to keep fighting for Obamacare

Ten days ago, South Tampa resident Karen Clay told a national cable audience on MSNBC about how Medicaid is more than just a lifeline for her severely disabled son, Mike Phillips. “It’s been a life.”

Clay and her family have been able to take care of him at home through a federal waiver, which would go away if massive budget cuts to Medicaid goes through as proposed in legislation pending on Capitol Hill.

“It is amazing this at this point in time, that we are fighting to spend less money. That’s what we just cannot understand,” Clay told Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and reporters gathered at his Tampa district office Monday afternoon. “It’s unconscionable that we are having this occur.”

Clay and her son were part of a small group of citizens in attendance whose lives have been enhanced through the Affordable Care Act. The told the senator to continue fighting Republicans attempts to replace and repeal Obamacare, which they are able to do if they can muster the 51 votes in the Senate in support.

At the end of last week, there were approximately 8-9 Republican Senators reportedly balking at the plan, however, as currently drafted.

The Congressional Budget Office predicted last week that the Senate Republican bill to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act would reduce federal spending on Medicaid by a total of $772 billion.

At the age of 40, Elizabeth Isom was hit with a hard-to-diagnose ailment that ultimately forced her to leave her job and lose her health insurance. The St. Petersburg resident was forced to get care at health care clinics, which she said could never invest in researching what was actually wrong with her. Ultimately, the clinic discovered a tumor in her sinus cavity, where it remained for another year.

The tumor then penetrated her skull, resulting in optic neuritis, aneurysms, and lesions throughout her body and mouth.

When insurance became available on January 1, 2014, Isom was finally able to access coverage through the ACA.

“If it wasn’t for the ACA, I don’t know if I would be alive, truthfully, ” she told Nelson.

Sarasota resident Olivia Babis was born disabled without arms and later contracted two autoimmune disorders. Because of her pre-existing health conditions, the only insurance company who would offer her insurance (pre-ACA) would have charged her $1,800 in monthly premiums.

Babis has been able to get affordable insurance through the ACA and doesn’t want it to go away.

“If they repeal it, there’s no insurance company that’s going to insure me,” she told Nelson. “My prescriptions are $1,500 a month without insurance. There’s no way that I can afford that,” she said, as her voice cracked.

“I’m not going to let them eliminate the ACA,” Nelson responded immediately. “I’m going to do all in my power, and I believe we will be successful because I think that stories like yours and Elizabeth’s, I think these stories are finally going to go through to them [congressional Republicans].”

Regina Hebert of Sun City has had severe arthritis, resulting in joint replacements over the years.

Stressed by a corporate job, Hebert quit to launch her own business, thereby losing employer-based health care insurance. Taking the independent route, Hebert went without coverage until the fall of 2013, when she signed up immediately as the government began allowing people to register for the health care exchanges.

Later, Hebert was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, resulting in chemotherapy and radiation treatment she was able to access through participation in the ACA exchanges. “The ACA saved my life. Absolutely saved my life,” she vowed.

“The ACA saved my life,” she vowed. “Absolutely saved my life.”

Nelson admits the ACA has legitimate problems, and he has offered two proposals that could save billions of dollars.

One would create a reinsurance/catastrophe fund for the health care insurance companies, which Nelson says would lower the premiums in Florida by 13 percent.

The other would be to allow Medicaid to be able to buy prescription drugs in bulk, as in Medicare, thus reducing overall drug costs (Nelson offered that proposal as an amendment to another piece of legislation, which was ultimately defeated).

“What we ought to be doing is fixing the existing law, instead of repealing it,” Nelson said, adding that the partisan politics in Washington when it comes to health care is a “sad commentary, but that is what we’re facing.”

While the citizens in Nelson’s office praised the senator fulsomely for acknowledging their stories, they had a decidedly different attitude toward Florida’s other U.S. Senator, Republican Marco Rubio.

“Marco Rubio’s office won’t even talk to us,” Hebert said.

Clay said she was denied an opportunity to speak with Rubio during a visit to Washington last week.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.
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