Daniel Tilson: Florida deserves health care expansion compromise in 2015

Late last week a statewide alliance of nonprofit advocacy organizations used a “Day of Action” in Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando and Miami to call for an end to the Florida Legislature’s inaction on health insurance coverage expansion in Florida.

All Floridians of good conscience now need to join that clarion call, for social progress.

The goal is, as it has been for three years, to get the Republican-controlled, hardcore conservative Florida House to compromise with the less dogmatic Senate on an effective path forward for expansion in the upcoming 2015 legislative session.

The devil’s of course in the details — and this one’s horns are sharpened and dangerous. But, they can be successfully circumnavigated and surmounted, given sufficient savvy, dispassionate discourse and cooperative compromise.

Recent developments are cause for cautious optimism.

Last Monday the long-simmering “Health Choices Florida” initiative, originally “launched” in 2008 with the help of $1.5 million from the Republican-dominated legislature, finally began selling full-blown health insurance.

First proposed for small businesses by then House Speaker Marco Rubio, the private-sector plan remained mired in inertia until 2013. But with the Obamacare insurance exchange on its way, legislators felt the federal heat and allocated another cool million to compete.

The Republican-backed online program rolled out in March 2014 after prolonged development problems and delays, long after other states less driven by partisan politics and more by effective problem-solving had successfully launched their exchanges.

The Florida “wrinkle?” Only “discount plans” were offered, not insurance. After 6 months, a total of 37 people had signed up. Seven canceled.

The federal exchange? After early problems were solved — and after the Health Care for Florida Now coalition of nearly a hundred organizations overcame obstruction of the public outreach and enrollment process — Florida led the nation with almost a million uninsured citizens using the federal exchange to get coverage during the the first three-month open enrollment period.

Then with the second year of Obamacare open enrollment (Nov. 15-Feb. 15) fast approaching, Republican gears started turning. Sure enough, 2015 ushered in availability of actual health insurance on the state exchange.

Make no mistake, these are Obamacare insurance plans, available thanks to 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act. Options and insurers are the same as on the federal healthcare.gov exchange.

But, the myfloridachoices.org portal also sells competing products:

  • “Discount Plans” featuring “Discounted fees for a variety of services.”
  • “Limited Benefit Plans” to “Cover a specific need or supplement your existing health insurance.”
  • “Pre-Paid Clinic Plans” (described as “Coming Soon.”)

If you question why the state is targeting the same younger and healthier people needed in comprehensive insurance pools for Obamacare to succeed…good question. But one of my New Year’s resolutions is to see more good intentions in people, including hardcore conservatives in the Florida House.

After two sessions of burnishing their conservative creds by rejecting billions in Obamacare funding and punishing a million Floridians too poor to buy insurance but not poor enough for Medicaid, Florida House conservatives have a new option.

A Healthy Florida Works is a “business-friendly” proposal unveiled recently by Republican-friendly organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries. The plan would accept federal funding but force “personal responsibility” on the newly insured by making them pay monthly premiums and “participate in job and education training activities.”

It’s a work in progress, a starting point for the kind of civil debate, consensus-reaching and constructive bipartisan action we expect and deserve from our government.

We’ve got a big problem. Let’s put politics aside and solve it, in 2015.

Dare I say…Let’s get to work.

(Editor’s note: The Republican Party of Florida objected to an earlier version of this column, which it said incorrectly indicated that RPOF plays an administrative role in the Health Choices Florida program. Republicans have supported the insurance marketplace, but RPOF is not responsible for creating or running the program.)

Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for non-profits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Daniel Tilson


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