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Candidate Forum Focuses on Health

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

Democratic candidates were the only ones to show at a legislative forum organized by the Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative. And each one said Florida needs to take federal funding to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The participants included Lorena Grizzle (D) – House District 66 candidate; Steve Sarnoff (D) – House District 67 candidate; Scott Orsini (D) - House District 69 candidate; and JudithanneMcLauchlan (D) – Senate District 22 candidate.

"We kind of are myopic here in Pinellas and Tampa Bay, because we're populated, we have a fairly high median income of families here,” said Democrat Steve Sarnoff, who is running for the seat that includes Clearwater and Largo. “But there are 67 total counties in Florida. Many of them rural. Many of them with a very low tax base with a population of very poor people who don't have access to health care."

Sarnoff is an employee with the City of Clearwater and has been a union president since 1999. His opponent is Republican Chris Latvala, a legislative aide to state Rep. Ed Hooper.  Hooper is not seeking re-election to House District 67 because of term limits. 

Democrat Judithanne McLauchlan is running against incumbent Jeff Brandes, who was the lone vote in the Florida Senate against an alternative to Medicaid expansion proposed by Republican state Sen. Joe Negron in 2013. That plan, which would have drawn down $51 billion in federal money, was defeated in the Republican-controlled House.  

Florida lawmakers did not consider Medicaid expansion or alternatives during the 2014 session.

“We are a donor state. That is our money that we worked hard for and sent to Washington,” McLauchlan said.  “This money must come back, and we must use it for the Medicaid expansion.”

St. Petersburg attorney Scott Orsini, the Democratic candidate for House District 69, said he has seen too many people who have had to file for bankruptcy because of medical bills. He said expanding Medicaid would help Floridians.

"I can't say it strongly enough. We need to have universal health care,” Orsini said. “It is affordable. The money's out there. It's just going to other states right now."

Republican Kathleen Peters, who currently represents House District 69, was planning to attend but could not because of a family health emergency, organizers said. She voted against expanding the health care program for low-income Floridians.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Medicaid expansion is an optional piece of the federal health law. Florida is one of 21 states that has not expanded the health program, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Candidates at Tuesday’s forum also discussed mental health, medical malpractice, Medicaid managed care, KidCare for the children of legal immigrants and the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.  

The forum was moderated by Mark Cruise, who is the president of the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Lottie Watts at 813-974-8705 (desk) or e-mail at For more health news, visit

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.