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Immigrants, Not Poor, Get Help

Because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision and Florida’s anti-Obamacare politics, legal immigrants will qualify for subsidies on health plans in this state even as citizens under the poverty level get turned away. 

As The Associated Pressreports from Miami, many low-income uninsured are baffled that they don’t qualify for a tax credit.

"It's the hardest thing to explain to a consumer that they're falling in this gap," said Juanita Mainster, a Miami counselor.

Christina Coello, a 27-year-old law student who works part-time, found her income is is $2,500 shy of qualifying for a tax credit. And she has a pre-existing condition and a young son.

"It's very frustrating because (the Florida House of Representatives) doesn't want to cover people who are supposedly lazy,” she said. “It's not only lazy people who need insurance. A lot of students fall into that category."

State House Republicans have chosen not to expand Medicaid, so those earning below the poverty line - $11,490 for an individual or $23,550 for a family of four - are not eligible for tax credits through the federal online marketplace. Under the Affordable Care Act, those citizens were supposed to be included in Medicaid. But the Supreme Court said that since Medicaid is a joint state and federal program, states had the option to participate. Florida has not.

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald and Kaiser Health Newsreports, the court decision left intact a provision that would allow some low-income legal immigrants to qualify for the tax credits. That has intensified criticism of the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid.

The reason the health law included legal immigrants among those who qualify for tax credits when signing up for a plan is that other laws prevent them from enrolling in Medicaid for five years after they arrive, according to the Herald/KHN.

The resulting appearance of unfairness could drag controversy over immigration into the already festering debate over the health law.  But only legal immigrants qualify for enrollment in a health plan.

Meanwhile, the Florida chapter of Doctors for America, an advocacy group that supports the law, launched a campaign to help the uninsured enroll in a health plan before the open-enrollment deadline of March 31, according to the Tampa Bay Times. They were in Tampa -- along with the mayor and two state legislators, all Democrats -- and Orlando on Saturday.

The group plans an enrollment effort in Jacksonville on March 1 and in Tallahassee, at the Capitol, on the opening day of the Legislature, March 5.

Dr. Mona Mangat, allergy specialist from St. Petersburg, told the Times that the uninsured really need to learn for themselves about their health insurance options, rather than rely on rumors and information that may well be false.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.