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Florida seniors, be careful what you wish for with Donald Trump, Medicare

Florida’s estimated 3.8 million senior citizens wanted change. They wanted to, how you say, drain the swamp? They voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in November.

With voters age 65 and over, Trump won Florida by 17 percent. That likely was the difference in a statewide race he won over Hillary Clinton by about 119,000 votes.

Here is part of the change they voted for. His name is Tom Price, just confirmed in the Senate as Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services by a party-line vote of 52-47. Seniors may become better acquainted with him the next few years. He is the guy who The Washington Post says wants to privatize Medicare and Medicaid.

“Under his vision, both programs would cease to be entitlements that require them to provide coverage to every person who qualifies,” the Post reported. “Instead, like many House Republicans, he wants to convert Medicaid into block grants to states — which would give them more latitude from federal requirements about eligibility rules and the medical services that must be covered for low-income Americans.

“This plan would also require ‘able-bodied’ applicants to meet work requirements to receive health care benefits — an idea that the Obama administration has consistently rebuffed.”

I wonder how that will go over with the good folks in Charlotte, Sumter, Sarasota and Citrus counties. They are among the 11 “grayest” counties in the country.

Sumter, with nearly 53 percent of residents age 65 or older, ranks No. 1 on that list compiled by Pew Research. It is the only county in the nation to have that distinction.

Sumter, by the way, voted 69 percent for Trump. Charlotte, the second-grayest county in the land, delivered 62 percent in favor of Trump. Citrus was 68 percent. Sarasota was 54 percent.

To be fair, some of the angst over Price is about what he “might” do versus what he “can” do. He can’t just wave a calculator and do away with traditional Medicare and Medicaid, and for the time being his focus likely will be on reconfiguring the Affordable Care Act into something that will suit conservatives.

Congress would have to approve any major changes to Medicare and Medicaid, and although Republicans control both chambers President Trump has said he wants to keep things the way they are.

PunditFact rated claims by a Democratic website that Price wants to “phase out” Medicare as false.

Phase out? No.

Change? You betcha.

In case Price gets any funny ideas, though, AARP — the advocacy group for seniors — sent a letter Jan. 30 to a House committee holding Medicaid hearings warning block grants are something that could “endanger the health, safety, and care of millions of individuals who depend on the essential services provided through Medicaid.”

Shifting these programs to block grants would have a huge impact on Florida’s budget, given the high percentage of seniors living here. Imagine how long it would take for state representatives to run those budget numbers and decide nope, we can’t afford that.

This is just the first inning of what promises to be a long game in the contentious debate over these social safety nets for seniors. It’s also true, though, that House Republicans have had this issue in their crosshairs for decades and now they have a shot at reform — whatever that means.

If that happens, it will be too late for Sumter, Charlotte, Citrus and Sarasota counties to demand a recount. Those voters wanted change. Careful what you wish for.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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