Activists promise to send Republicans opposed to Medicaid expansion packing next election

05/02/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Medicaid, Medicaid expansion, Kathleen Peters, SEIU


Activists rally in the rain to urge state lawmakers to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion

photo by Janelle Irwin

The message from St. Petersburg activists to state lawmakers Friday is: accept Medicaid expansion or get voted out of office. During a soggy rally in front of Republican Representative Kathleen Peters’ office Friday, a group of about 25 protesters dressed up as things like the Grimm Reaper and wore cardboard coffins over their clothes.

They showed up despite heavy rain to highlight figures from a study that show six people in Florida die every day because of a lack of health care options. The problem has become pervasive in Florida because it’s what activists call a “red state donut hole.” That means there are people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to get subsidized coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Susan McGrath is one of those people.

“I have uterine fibroids so I became anemic and lost a lot of blood and had to have a lot of blood transfusions.”

McGrath, who is an unemployed 51-year old single woman is going to need surgery. But social workers told her, her only healthcare option without incurring crippling medical bills is a free clinic. They don’t do surgery. So now she’s trying to get coverage through the federal health care exchange by doing what some would call fudging her income.

“So, you know, I don’t know if that’s exactly the way those numbers are supposed to be figured. There’s a lot of varying viewpoints about how those things are verified and what’s held into account. So, right now I’m trying to project my income for this year in an optimistic manner so that I can be able to have some healthcare coverage. I almost died because of this situation when I was in the hospital and that didn’t need to happen.”

So, here’s the issue. $51 billion were left on the table last year by Republicans in Tallahassee. That federal funding would have paid for Florida to extend its Medicaid program to nearly one million low income people. Under the healthcare law, people making between 100 and 400% of poverty level can get a break on health insurance costs. Anyone below poverty level would qualify for Medicaid. But since Florida didn’t expand, those people are out of luck.

“I didn’t even need to get to the point where I needed to be in the hospital, but because I didn’t have healthcare and I didn’t have health insurance coverage, I was afraid to get care because I was worried about the extreme cost.”

The state can still act, but it’s the last day of the legislative session and there haven’t been any signs of hope for the people, like McGrath, hoping for a miracle. Enter threats to vote out dissenting Republicans. Suzanne Snurpus is the lead organizer with the Pinellas County SEIU, a labor union.

“You know, we’re going to remember when November rolls around and we’re going to vote every single person out of office that chose to not work on behalf of working America, people who need healthcare.”

It’s a threat heard often on the political battle ground, but several groups are coming together to give the threat teeth. That includes a coalition called Awake Pinellas and some faith-based groups.

“We are going to knock doors, we’re going to canvass, we’re going to mobilize the community, we’re going to mobilize our members, we’re going to educate the public about what’s at stake, why it matters and we’re going to make sure that they get to the polls in November and vote.”

And the cause has a face now. Charlene Dill, a 32-year old mother of three working as many jobs died in March. Why? Because she couldn’t afford the medication she needed for her heart problem. Since her death, she has been heralded as the cost of Republican inaction on Medicaid. Had the program been expanded, Dill would likely still be alive. It’s something Snurpus says is unacceptable.

“What if it were your mother? What if it were your daughter that died because they didn’t have the health care that they needed and the money is right there and we have elected officials who just choose to do nothing.”

Supporters of Medicaid expansion often point to the financial cost to taxpayers associated with having so many people in poverty uninsured. Every time they wind up in an emergency room, we all pay for it, they argue. But that argument isn’t meant to overshadow the medical importance. They say some people skip needed doctor’s appointments or go without preventative care.

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