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Mark Ferrulo: Scott, Legislature foolishly blocking expansion of health insurance

No state’s government has done more than Florida’s to throw up barriers for uninsured citizens to get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Rick Scott and his army of re-election consultants will undoubtedly hold up this dubious distinction as a badge of honor. Fortunately, Florida families have taken matters into their own hands and lead the nation in attaining health insurance through the federally run Marketplace.

The overwhelming interest Floridians have shown in the new Marketplace demonstrates just how strong the demand for quality, affordable insurance options is in this state. Scott and his allies in the Legislature could make it as hard as possible for Floridians to get health-care coverage in the new insurance Marketplace, but they couldn’t legally stop Floridians from having access to the Marketplace or health-care advocates from promoting it. That’s why it’s worked so well.

Unfortunately, Scott and his legislative allies, simply through inaction, can block a different provision of the Affordable Care Act. That program is the expansion of health care to families that have too much income to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidies to help pay for insurance policies found in the Marketplace. Because of this, there are more than a million Floridians who have now fallen into a health insurance coverage gap.

One issue commonly raised by opponents of health-care expansion is the issue of “flexibility”. Florida legislative leaders who have been insisting that the federal government’s requirements for health-care expansion are too rigid and inflexible just aren’t being straight with us.

The reality is that Florida has tremendous flexibility in its approach to expanding health care. It can expand coverage using a private sector approach, require newly eligible consumers to pay part of the cost, and even include a trigger that would automatically end the expansion if federal funding were to stop or reduce in amount.

Florida is losing about $15 million a day in federal funding because of the legislature’s refusal to expand access to health care – $15 million a day! As a result, lower-income working families will stay uninsured, even as people with higher incomes get help purchasing coverage.

Floridians who fall into this coverage gap will earn too little to qualify for tax credits to purchase coverage, but Florida still won’t allow them to access coverage. This is bad health-care policy and it’s unfair. What’s more, this federal funding would provide a massive economic boost for Florida.

The federal government will fully cover the cost of newly eligible Floridians until 2017 and then cover 90 percent or more of the cost each year after. Thousands of health-care related jobs would be created.

But Instead of ensuring that thousands of Florida workers, parents and people with disabilities have access to the health care they need, the Legislature has created this coverage gap by intentionally turning down critical federal funds – our own tax dollars, no less – to expand access.

This means that a mom and dad with two kids earning more than $90,000 a year will be able to get tax credits to purchase quality health insurance, but there will be nothing available for the single mom who works as a home health aide making $12,000 a year.

Everyone in our state deserves to have health-care coverage without our elected officials standing in the way. It’s important to remember that no historic reform — from Social Security to Medicare to Civil Rights — has ever been won without a sustained struggle.

Defeat is simply not an option here. Floridians are counting on health-care expansion and they will either convince our state leaders to stop blocking it, or ultimately, they will pick new leaders.

Mark Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy organization. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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