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Medicaid Question: Where's the Compassion? | Rhonda Swan

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Medicaid Question: Where's the Compassion? | Rhonda Swan

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Medicaid Question: Where's the Compassion?
Friday, April 19, 2013 — Rhonda Swan

Paulette Wilson paid for her own health insurance policy before the economy tanked and she had to let it go.

The self-employed cosmetologist from Miami Gardens, who suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, earned about $13,000 last year.

She relies on neighborhood clinics for a patchwork of medical care she receives only in emergencies.
Wilson could get routine care and would undoubtedly be healthier if Florida expanded Medicaid under the guidelines of the Affordable Care Act.

But she and an estimated 1 million Floridians who would be eligible for the expanded program have become pawns in a war of ideology in Tallahassee where the Republican-dominated Legislature has rejected Medicaid expansion.

On one side there are lawmakers such as Sen. Joe Negron and Rep. Mike Fasano, Republicans who would use the federal dollars designed for expansion to offer private insurance to eligible Floridians.

On the other side are lawmakers such as House Speaker Will Weatherford and Sen. Aaron Bean, Republicans who would reject the federal money and kick Floridians like Wilson to the curb along with the cash.

At the heart of this debate is the fundamental question of what kind of state Florida is going to be.

One with or without a heart.

Wilson is the epitome of what the GOP claims to represent. She’s an entrepreneur who’d like a hand up, not a hand out. “It would be better,” she said, referring to her health, “if I had insurance.”

Yet, she is grateful despite her situation.

“I’m blessed,” she said. “It sounds bad, but I’m blessed.”

Wilson doesn’t qualify for assistance because she owns the home her deceased parents left to her and her sisters. She bought her sisters out of the property.

“Nobody wants to do anything for you,” she said. “They say I have an asset.”

She has medical debts she can’t pay because there are more bills – mortgage, electricity, water, prescriptions and expensive diabetes testing strips – than money.

Wilson could get help with those prescriptions and testing strips under Negron’s Healthy Florida plan.

She gets nothing under the plans proposed by Bean and Weatherford, which exclude people earning more than 100 percent of the poverty line, about $11,000 a year for a single person.

The House plan that Weatherford touts purposefully excludes “able-bodied” people like Wilson, who have no children or whose children are grown, for whom the speaker has no sympathy.

I’d love to see Weatherford tell Wilson and others like her who work and struggle to pay their bills to their face that they don’t deserve help from the state.

The 115,000 individuals the House plan purports to help  - 10 percent of those who get insurance under Negron’s plan or by expanding traditional Medicaid - would have to meet a $2,500 deductible.

Wilson said she can’t afford a $2,500 deductible and she earns more than those who would qualify for the House’s Healthy Choices Plus plan. So, in essence, the plan wouldn’t help anyone.

Fasano was so ticked at the House’s plan that he joined Democrats to craft a failed amendment that mirrored Negron’s bill.

He called the plan "inadequate, unaffordable and truly unacceptable." He pointed out that his colleagues “have an opportunity to help so many more in this state who have been suffering for so long."

Tallahassee, though, has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to that suffering for a long time.

For all the gnashing of teeth about so-called Obamacare and the chest pounding of how the House plan is a model for other states, there wouldn’t be a health care plan in the Senate or the House if it weren’t for Obamacare.

Florida didn’t just suddenly wake up to find 4 million uninsured residents living in its borders. And until this year, the Legislature had made no serious attempt at helping them get health care.

It’s only because of Obamacare that we are even having this debate.

And Weatherford and other Republicans dissing federal money today as if it were poison were more than happy to take it when it came in the form of stimulus dollars that helped them balance the state budget at the height of the Great Recession.

It’s time to get the politics out of health care and do what’s right for Florida’s uninsured.

The most important question for lawmakers to ask themselves came from Sen. John Thrasher. "Can we," he asked, "be compassionate for our fellow citizens?"

Paulette Wilson turns 62 in September. She is three and a half years from getting Medicare.

In a compassionate Florida, she won’t have to wait that long for adequate health care.

Rhonda Swan is an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post and author of Dancing to the Rhythm of My Soul: A Sister’s Guide for Transforming Madness into Gladness. She can be reached at [email protected]

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