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FL CHAIN, Health Consumer Group, Lays Off All Staff

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Florida CHAIN
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida CHAIN, the state's most active group urging health care for all, says it will lay off all five staff members at the end of next month because it has lost a key source of funds.

That source is Community Catalyst, a non-profit in Boston that has been managing a pool of philanthropic funds aimed at speeding implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Catalyst has been making grants to state-based groups including Florida Community Health Action Information Network, or CHAIN.

In fact, Community Catalyst was preparing to do so again, Deputy Director Susan Sherry said. Assuming that Democrat Hillary Clinton would be elected President, Catalyst had asked Florida CHAIN for a proposal for 2017 funds to support the group’s push to expand Medicaid.

“We hadn’t yet received the proposal when the election happened and we realized we needed to take a step back” to reshuffle priorities, Sherry said.

With both President-elect Donald Trump and the Congress vowing to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, money that could have gone to states for implementation may have to be focused on defensive maneuvers at the federal level for the short term, she said.

“It’s pretty clear that opponents of the Affordable Care Act will move forward with plans to repeal it,” Sherry said. Unless there is an adequate replacement for it, she said, repeal of the ACA “will strip away coverage from 22 million Americans, including 1.7 million living in Florida.”

The decision to end funding for Florida CHAIN doesn’t mean the group wasn’t doing a good job at helping people enroll in health plans and speaking up for broader coverage, Sherry said.

“We think Florida CHAIN has been doing a great job,” she said.

The most that Florida CHAIN would have received from Catalyst for next year is $200,000, Sherry said. A larger sum had been reported elsewhere.

Those to be laid off include the non-profit’s executive director, Mark Pafford, former House Democratic Leader who is leaving office because of term limits. Pafford, who accepted the $85,000-a-year post with CHAIN last year, is in Tallahassee, turning over the reins as House Democratic Leader to Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa.

He has been unavailable for comment since Florida CHAIN announced the pending layoffs late Monday. The press release said the group’s board of directors, who are volunteers, will keep its mission alive as much as possible.

“We are not going away,” CHAIN’s Chairwoman Chris Fisher told the Naples Daily News.

On the group’s website, a statement says the layoff of staff was a “prudent and difficult business decision to preserve Florida CHAIN’s ability to operate in a limited role until such time that we have a better understanding of the future of health care in Florida and the United States.”

The group asked for individual donations and provided both a link and a mailing address.

“The Board of Directors wishes to express its appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the current members of our staff. We will work diligently through December 2016 modifying our business operation to prepare for whatever the 2017 political climate brings.”

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.