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Sebelius: FL Actions 'Unbelievable'

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

(Updated) Saying "Florida has done some pretty unbelievable things," top federal health official Kathleen Sebelius told Jacksonville leaders on Monday she hopes they will get the word out that help for the uninsured is on the way.

According to the Florida Times-Union, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said she's focused on Florida because the state's government has done so much to try to block the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, even though Florida has 3.8 million uninsured.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked Congressional leaders to look into the security of the online enrollment systems after a state-based exchange in Minnesota suffered a data breach because of human error, the Associated Press reports. Here is Scott's letter.

Among the ways that Florida has tried to impede Obamacare:

--It led the court challenge on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 soon after President Barack Obama signed it into law. Attorney General Pam Bondi made it one of her high-profile issues, becoming a regular guest on Fox News to attack it.

--After the Supreme Court ruled the law was constitutional, the Florida Legislature told state agencies not to implement it because lawmakers felt sure the Republican party Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, would win the election in 2012. At that point, the law could be repealed.

--After Romney lost the election, many expected Florida to follow the lead of other states and begin implementing the law. Instead, the governor and legislature pressured the agencies not to apply for grants related to the law; some agencies had to give back grants they had already won.

--The Legislature this year voted against Florida having its own electronic marketplace for health-plan shopping, even though the state had already spent five years and several million dollars building an online shopping site, Florida Health Choices, that has yet to be used. That put state lawmakers who frequently complained about the federal government grabbing too much power in the strange position of shoving more power at the feds.

--After months of hearings and negotiations, the Florida Senate came up with a compromise plan on Medicaid expansion that would accomplish several things: Reduce the number of uninsured Floridians by about 1 million by using federal funds,  save millions of state dollars now being spent on the uninsured, and continue privatization of the Medicaid program, already well under way. But the House said no.

--The Legislature voted to strip the Insurance Commissioner's authority to regulate health premiums for two years.

--Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty issued a report that predicted health premiums in Florida's  individual market would soar 30 to 40 percent, thereby producing scandalous headlines. Later, others would note that the figure failed to make adjustments for the tax credits most of those shopping in that market would qualify for. He also failed to mention that the sector he was describing accounts for only 5 percent of policies.

--With the knowledge of Gov. Rick Scott, the state Department of Health ordered the health department directors around the state to bar "Navigators" -- enrollment counselors helping the uninsured sign up for health plans on the Affordable Care Act Marketplace starting Oct. 1. A quick-thinking director, Dr. Claude Dharamraj, was able to get around the orderby pointing out to her superiors at DOH that the state agency did not own the buildings; the county did. But by that time, most of the newspapers in the state and a number of others around the country were calling Florida officials mean-spirited for trying to block the uninsured from enrollment.

--Scott sounded an alarm at a Cabinet meeting about the federal online Marketplace's security, suggesting that the Obama administration wanted to amass a giant database of Floridians' health information. He also warns that there are security risks from both the machinery and the Navigators aiding in enrollment.

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.