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Obamacare-Supporting Candidates Lose Key Florida Races

Rep. Donna Shalala, a Miami Democrat, has called for a two-week stay home order.
The Florida Channel
Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala headed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration.

Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, elected in 2018 midterms following the president's attempt to repeal the law, were defeated by Republican challengers.

Floridians flock to the federal health insurance exchange in higher numbers than any other state, but Obamacare-supporting political candidates, including incumbents and hopefuls, got beat in key state and federal races Tuesday.

Florida Democrats during the campaign tried unsuccessfully to paint President Donald Trump as the man who would repeal the Affordable Care Act and place millions of people with pre-existing conditions at risk, but Trump defeated Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the state, capturing more than 51 percent of the vote.

Also, Democratic U.S. House members Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, both of whom were elected in 2018 midterm elections following Trump’s attempt to repeal the federal health care law, were defeated by Republican challengers Tuesday night in South Florida districts.

“When the policies are separated from the candidates, the partisanship, the racism, whatever else you want to throw at the wall, health care policies are popular, similar to the minimum wage being popular. It’s just been a failure of Democrats to make it an urgent economic issue that has credibility,” said Democratic media consultant Kevin Cate, whose clients this election cycle included U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and state Senate candidate Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, both of whom won their races.“Whether that’s entirely the Democratic Party’s fault or the fault of voters being persuaded one way or another from advertising, or disinformation, it’s still a problem in Florida.”

Shalala headed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration and is a staunch supporter of the law often called Obamacare. She was defeated Tuesday by former television reporter Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican who in 2017 supported a House Republican tax proposal that would have made deep cuts to the Medicaid program. But in the run-up to this year’s election, Salazar took a nuanced stance on Obamacare, telling The Miami Herald that she would not vote to repeal it without first having something to take its place.

But longtime Florida political analyst Susan MacManus said Shalala’s defeat had little to do with health care or where the candidates stood on Obamacare.

“This was 100 percent the Latino vote,” MacManus said, noting that the bloc of voters, including Cuban-Americans as well as Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Venezuelans and Colombians, voted Republican “straight all the way down the ballot.” She said they were fueled by worries that Democrats were “socialists,” a description that Shalala said did not apply to her but that was true of some members of her party.

That Republican trend also hurt Mucarsel-Powell, who is Latino but a Democrat.

MacManus, a political science professor emeritus at the University of South Florida, said Shalala’s remarks that Gov. Ron DeSantis should shut down the state’s economy to try to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19 also didn’t resonate well with voters.

Health care didn’t translate at the polls the way that Florida Democrats wanted, MacManus said, because it never was able to be distinguished from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For a lot of people, COVID incorporated the idea of health care,” she told The News Service of Florida.

Democrats tried repeatedly to make the future of the Affordable Care Act a top-tier issue.

Passed in 2010, the law made sweeping changes to how insurance is sold and priced.

Obamacare put into federal law standards that health insurance companies must abide by and precluded states from weakening those standards.

The law requires health insurers to offer policies to people regardless of pre-existing conditions and prevents companies from charging rates based on health factors. Insurance carriers only are allowed to price policies based on age, family composition, geographic location and tobacco use. The law created a federal exchange where low-income residents could purchase policies with subsidies.

More than 1.9 million Floridians receive health insurance through the federal exchange, with the overwhelming majority of those people receiving subsidies.That’s more than any other state,which means Florida may have the most to lose when the U.S, Supreme Court hears arguments next Tuesday in a case known as Texas v. California.

Backed by the Trump administration, the lawsuit seeks to strike down Obamacare. Newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who has cemented the court’s conservative 6-3 majority, will participate in the case. Barrett has criticized an earlier court decision that preserved Obamacare.

Gainesville physician Kayser Enneking, a Democrat, made expanding Medicaid - a key feature of Obamacare - a top priority during her campaign this year for a state House seat. Florida is one of 14 states that didn’t expand Medicaid under the federal law and Enneking, a second-generation Florida physician (her dad was a Gainesville doctor), said it would be her first priority if elected. But she lost Tuesday to Rep. Chuck Clemons, a Newberry Republican who opposes the Medicaid expansion.

Enneking’s campaign for the House District 21 seat came after she ran for the Senate in 2018, also on a health care platform. She narrowly lost that race to Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, won a closely watched race Tuesday in Senate District 9 in Seminole and Volusia counties.

During his eight-year stint in the state House, Brodeur made no secret of his disdain for the Affordable Care Act.

Brodeur in 2011 co-introduced a joint resolution that tried to preclude the federal government from enforcing Obamacare in Florida, saying he didn’t want to pay heath-care costs for people who eat poorly.

Brodeur championed efforts to eliminate Obamacare. Brodeur in May 2017 also supported Medicaid block grants, which economists at the time argued would have financially hurt Florida, as well as issues such as work requirements for Medicaid recipients and the elimination of requirements that insurance companies and HMOs provide coverage for certain mandated benefits.

“Florida will exercise every avenue to liberate ourselves from Obamacare,” Brodeur said at the time.

Christine Sexton - News Service of Florida