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Robert Asencio: Healthcare expansion is a public safety issue

Put aside the politics of Florida’s healthcare reform debate for a minute, and you’ll recognize our uninsured crisis is as much a public safety problem as it is a public policy challenge.

My entire professional life has been dedicated to public service and safety. Working my way up from patrolman to lieutenant over 26 years with the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department, I’ve helped keep thousands of public school children and their families safe. That makes it especially hard to see so many hard-working, low-income families still endangered by the absence of health insurance coverage.

Too many times over the years, I’ve seen children cry or act out in confusion and despair, because uninsured family membersdiabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions were going untreated and spiraling out of control; or because the family was close to going broke and in some cases homeless, because of all the medical bills. That isn’t right, or necessary. And it’s a threat to public safety.

Think about it. It isn’t just the uninsured who are in danger. It’s also all the other people they come into contact with every day. Left without the means to see a doctor and effectively prevent or diagnose illness, the uninsured are more prone to get sick and less likely to get treatment. That puts their families, friends, neighbors and strangers who come into contact with them each day at risk of contracting undiagnosed, untreated, contagious illnesses.

We keep hearing about 800,000 or so uninsured Floridians caught in the “Florida Coverage Gap.” Multiply that number by all the people each of them come into contact with, and you’ll begin to get an idea of the scope of the risk we’re taking by not helping these people gain the protection and security of health insurance.

With politicians talking about the uninsured like a herd of inferior cattle, it’s easy to overlook that these are fellow human beings – parents, students and young people, military veterans, displaced and low-wage workers. Elected officials who’ve been trying to throw them under the bus need to stop, look, and listen – to their constituents, their consciences and commonsense.

Right here in the Miami-Dade Florida House district I call home, HD 118, we have nearly 9,000 uninsured residents. Study after study has shown that taking federal healthcare funding to insure them and hundreds of thousands of others is the right thing to do for taxpayer savings, job creation and economic growth. And it’s the right thing for public safety too.

But instead of compromising on a conservative Florida Senate plan to insure our uninsured neighbors, House Republicans such as HD 118 State Rep. Frank Artiles staged a job walkout that forced taxpayers to foot the bill for a special session. And they’re putting us all at risk of a disastrous government shutdown come July 1.

Now is the time to actively urge Rep. Artiles and other House members to put aside political allegiance to Gov. Rick Scott’s anti-Obamacare crusade, and put public service and safety first.

Robert Asencio is a candidate for State Representative in Florida House District 118. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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