March 24, 2015 · by  from The Florida Squeeze

Florida’s ideological legislature has on two occasions left almost a million Floridians, all of whom are working class without health care. Republican legislators have consistently ignored multiple studies that indicate more jobs will be brought to Florida thanks to the expanded healthcare sector.  They’ve ignored that small businesses who they claim to want to help will actually benefit from Medicaid expansion. Most importantly they’ve once again shown that the plight of working-class Floridians and those whose blood, sweat and tears make this state go are not important to those who hold ultimate power in Tallahassee.

Falling in a bracket in-between qualifying for Medicaid and having affordable health care options at the workplace is nearly a million low income Floridians. This bracket is disproportionately made up of citizens from minority groups. During a teleconference on Tuesday afternoon, the Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment (F.I.R.E), highlighted inequities around health care in Florida. People of color have been left out of the health care system for too long. It’s time to take steps to ensure everyone has access to quality health care they are guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act.

The recommendations mentioned at today’s teleconference come from “Breaking Barriers: Improving Health Insurance Enrollment and Access to Health Care in Florida” a new report produced by the Alliance for a Just Society, a national organizing network that has produced pivotal health care reports for 20 years.

“It’s unconscionable that so many have been left out of something as basic as the chance to enjoy good health,” said Amy Ritter, Civic Engagement Director for F.I.R.E. “Lack of Internet access or speaking another language is not a reason to be locked out of a health system that purports to be open to all.”

Florida’s deep divides between social classes, income and ethnicity are magnified when it comes to access to health care,” said Gary Delgado, author of the “Breaking Barriers” report.

Delgado and his research team analyzed health care access throughout Florida, interviewing people in low-income communities in their own language.  Many of the experiences they heard are like Kathleen Voss Woolrich’s:

“Because I fall under the coverage gap and am not consistently covered by health insurance, I haven’t received the care that I’ve needed for the last five years, and have had to go to emergency rooms instead of a doctor. If people have access to primary care doctors, it keeps them out of the emergency room, and I think that my health would have been better had I gotten early care when I was first diagnosed with an auto immune disorder.”

Key recommendations in the report include:

  • Expand Medicaid. By accepting federal funding for Medicaid expansion, as many as a million more people in Florida will have access to health care. More funding will be available to hospitals and clinics, and more, good-paying jobs will be created for workers.
  • Improve language access.
  • Simplify the insurance-shopping experience. Simplify print and electronic descriptions of plans and benefits, making cost information transparent and communicating clear information about deductibles, co-pays,
  • Address racial health disparities. Impose penalties on insurers who don’t reduce disparities within required timeframes.
  • Address the underlying causes of poor health particularly in poor rural communities. Encourage innovation and experimentation to find new solutions.
  • Assure that primary care providers are available within 30 minutes average driving or public transit time and specialists within an hour of all residents.
  • Expand school-based health centers, especially in medically under-served communities, to mitigate the lack of other health care options

 “With innovation, determination and a fierce determination to end racial and cultural discrepancies, Florida can provide not only coverage, but also quality health care to all,” said Alex Rivera, another speaker at today’s teleconference who represents the largely impacted Latino community in Florida.

The leadership in Tallahassee’s continued desire to make Florida a laboratory for ideologically conservative experiments has extended to preventing common sense, pro-business solutions. Expanding health care coverage is in fact pro business, and obviously pro-family. As Florida continues to resist expanding Medicaid and other practical health care solutions, responsible employers will continue to shy away from the state. The Governor likes to claim that Florida is “open for business,” but his rhetoric does not match the actions of his administration or the legislative leadership.  Florida is if anything a closed shop, the type of place which struggles to attract businesses and skilled workers because of these policies. At the same time, Florida’s political leadership show time and again they could care less about those trapped by the system and on whose backs this state’s economy functions.

Unfortunately waiting for solutions from Tallahassee to these problems is akin to sitting in the hot sun on Miami Beach waiting for it to snow. The abdication of leadership from the governing class in Florida is borderline criminal – but we hope some of our leaders read this report and understand the consequences of their continued inaction.

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