Activists call on Republican FL Rep. Kathleen Peters to support Medicaid expansion

03/27/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Medicaid expansion, Kathleen Peters, Awake Pinellas, healthcare, Obamacare, Affordable Care Act


Activists wave signs in front of th building where FL Rep. Kathleen Peters' office is located.

photo by Janelle Irwin

It costs more for a person earning below poverty wages to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act than it does many middle class people. That problem would be solved if Florida lawmakers expanded the state’s Medicaid program. Activists protested the refusal of federal funding in front of Republican State Representative Kathleen Peters’ office in St. Pete Thursday.

Activists including Terrie Weeks hope they can persuade holdouts in the legislature to change their minds.

“Because people are going to die.”

More than $50 billion was left on the table last year when the Republican-led legislature refused to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid. The result has left many adults stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“There are at least a million people [who] fall into this coverage gap. They don’t make enough money to qualify for subsidies through the exchange and they don’t qualify for Medicaid in Florida.”

Here’s what happens: People making between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level qualify for subsidies to buy health insurance in the exchanges set up to offer competitive policies and rates. That means a single person can make up to almost $46,000 a year and still qualify for the break. But someone making less than $11,500 a year would have to pay the full market rate to purchase private health insurance. Amber Davis is one of those people.

“My monthly amount would be close to $400 plus co-pays. So, that’s just out of my range. I can’t afford it.”

Davis is a full-time student who works part-time in a restaurant to get by. If she were under 26, she could stay on her parents insurance. But she’s not. Under the version of the Affordable Care Act that was originally passed, Medicaid would have covered people like Davis through the federally funded expansion of the program. But even though the Supreme Court upheld the law’s constitutionality, it struck down a provision that required states to expand and instead left it to the legislatures to decide. Davis says she does have a share of cost plan through the state run health program.

“It gets me nothing. I mean, I can’t see a primary care physician. If I were ill, I would have to go to an ER which after the ER visit, which might be $500, $800, then they would kick in and start paying any additional bills. But up until that point, I’m still responsible for that amount which is just beyond my means.”

Governor Rick Scott had said last year that he supported accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid, but he did little to persuade lawmakers to approve it. So the money got left behind last year and it’s looking like it will this year too. That’s why Awake Pinellas activist Katherine Dowling waved signs in front of one Republican’s office who is opposed to the expansion.

“Kathleen Peters and other representative friends of hers have consistently been catering to their corporate donors and not listening to the voice of the people that they are serving.”

The argument by hesitant Republicans is that the federal money may dry up leaving Florida to foot the bill for Medicaid expansion. But Medicaid supporters, like Terri Weeks, argue it actually costs the state more money to leave more than a million Floridians off the healthcare rolls because many end up using emergency rooms for care that could have been cheaper with a primary care physician.

“Which is the most expensive thing they can do. We are subsidizing that kind of unnecessary behavior with our tax dollars. It would be much more effective and cost efficient, it would actually save the tax payers money if these people could get covered under Medicaid, get some decent preventative medicine and not end up in the emergency room.”

The group of about 15 activists says they have been trying to get a meeting with Kathleen Peters but haven’t had any luck. They wanted to talk to her or a member of her staff today, but Awake Pinellas’ Dowling said that didn’t happen either.

“We tried to go in. The doors are closed and locked for the reason of meetings.”

Written on a red dry erase board on Peters’ office door was a note to constituents apologizing for being out of the office, explaining that there were a series of meetings across the district throughout the day. No one answered the phone either.

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