Health care advocates gathered across Florida today — in Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee, and Miami — calling on the state to accept federal funds and expand its Medicaid program.
A handful of people gathered in outside the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in Miami, several with big black circles painted under their eyes, making them appear sickly. Others wore face masks with slogans like “no coverage equals death” written on them.
For Mariamee Rodriguez, that slogan is not as inflammatory as it sounds. Her daughter has a chronic respiratory condition and with it come lots of medical expenses. Both mother and daughter fall into the so-called coverage gap — they make too much money to qualify for Florida’s Medicaid program and too little to earn subsidies to help pay for Obamacare coverage.
“[The monthly medications] add up to over $6,000,” says Rodriguez,“and without those medications she can’t breathe. … Unfortunately, you know, next year when she turns 21, unless Medicaid expands, she will not qualify for anything.”
When the Affordable Care Act rolled out in 2010, Congress assumed states would opt to expand Medicaid coverage for the poor to more people, offering over $50 billion to Florida for its expansion efforts.
The past two years, Florida turned down that money, citing concerns about big government and sticking the taxpayers with the bill for expansion.
Initially opposed to accepting the federal money, Governor Rick Scott reversed his stand in 2013, when said he would consider taking the money if it came at no expense to the residents. Since then Scott has been relatively quiet on the issue, even during his re-election campaign last year.
That left about 800,000 people in the coverage gap, including Rodriguez and her daughter.
Cindy Lerner, mayor of the Village of Pinecrest in Miami-Dade County, says beyond the health need, there’s also an economic advantage to expanding the program.
“Jobs,” says Lerner. “Providing the basic infrastructure for more healthcare providers of well-care [and] preventive care, which isn’t currently available to hundreds of thousands.”
A few of the activists hope to put together a group to go up and lobby in Tallahassee in March, when the new session starts, and convince legislators to close the coverage gap.
Wilson Sayre is a reporter with WLRN in Miami. WLRN is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.