By: Linet Suarez, Legal Intern
As a legal intern at Florida Legal Services I’ve spent significant time reading and analyzing the fiscal arguments in favor of Medicaid expansion and understanding how states like Florida that do not expand Medicaid create a “coverage gap.” I’ve learned that Florida would greatly benefit economically from Medicaid expansion and that expanding Medicaid would increase access to healthcare for the 764,000 Floridians who fall into the coverage gap. As many have observed, Medicaid expansion is a “fiscal no brainer.”
This session, the Florida House of Representatives rejected a Senate bill that would have accepted federal funding for people in the “gap.” Members of the House claim that Medicaid expansion would create an expensive and broken health care system. However, research reveals that the Senate’s bill would actually result in savings for the state of Florida and increased access to health care for hundreds of thousands of people.
In addition to researching and analyzing the fiscal and political arguments, a major part of my summer project has been to call back dozens of Florida consumers who fall into the coverage gap and who were referred to FLS during the session. The law student who worked with FLS last semester interviewed them, explained the gap and how it was created (the Supreme Court decision making Medicaid expansion a choice for individual states), gave them advice about the local safety net, wrote short poignant narratives about their struggles, and shared those stories with the press and other advocates.
My job this summer was to call these folks back, let them know what happened in the Legislature, how their Senator and Representative voted, and offer assistance if they want to write their elected official to express their anger (most House Representatives voted against their health care coverage) or their gratitude (most Senators voted for their coverage). Over the course of these calls I also learned a lot more about the struggles folks are having getting the care they need at our local safety net providers. The most important lesson I can share with you after making many calls is simple: the 764,000 Floridians who fall into the coverage gap are people.
I am not sure how or when it happened, but Medicaid expansion has become largely a dehumanized conversation centering on politics, data, and budgets. The House of Representatives voted to deny access to health care for what appear to be ideological reasons, but failed to consider that the people who fall into the coverage gap are not just statistics or strangers that you read about in a newspaper article. They are the people who care for our children and elderly parents, work in our local supermarkets, or serve food at our favorite restaurant. They are the faces we see day in and day out.
One of the people I have come to know is PC, a 60-year-old Miami resident. PC worked as a contractor for years until he was in an accident that damaged his lower back. PC now suffers from severe pain and has not been able to find another job. As a result, he has lost his house and depends on the charity of others when he would much rather be working again. PC cannot afford to get the health care he needs and his best chance at getting better is if the Florida legislature would choose to accept funding for his coverage.
Similar to others in the coverage gap, PC faces many challenges when he tries to access health care. The local public hospital places him on hold when he calls for long periods of time, it takes weeks to see a doctor, and once he does get an appointment, it is difficult to find transportation to even make it there. There are simply too many barriers to access basic health care.
For the 764,000 Floridians who fall into the coverage gap Medicaid is not a hot topic issue based on political ideologies. It is a necessity. It is time that we each figure out the role we can play in Medicaid expansion. To begin with, we can contact our legislators and encourage informed discussions about Medicaid in our communities. These are our family members, friends and neighbors, and all they are asking is that our state Representatives stop rejecting the federal funding that would pay for their coverage simply because they don’t like “Obamacare.”