Health advocacy groups want feds to implement parts of the healthcare law in Florida
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11/29/12 Janelle Irwin
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Florida has until December 14 to show they will be ready to implement federally mandated changes to health insurance by January, 2014. During a conference call today advocates said the state won’t have time to create efficient health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

The exchanges will be a competitive market place where patients can shop around for health insurance. The process has been likened to travel planning websites like Travelocity that give consumers a good shot at finding the best prices. But Laura Goodhue, executive director of the health advocacy group Florida CHAIN said Florida has delayed preparing the exchanges for more than two years.

“And in the process have lost valuable time and resources to build an exchange that meets the healthcare needs of our residents.”

So she and others are organizing a petition signed by almost 9,000 people so far to ask the federal government to step in. If they don’t, Goodhue said it will affect millions of Floridians.

“This includes nearly 2 million previously uninsured residents who will be eligible to receive tax credits to purchase coverage.”

State lawmakers as well as Governor Rick Scott and members of his cabinet held off on implementing parts of the healthcare law while they waited for a Supreme Court ruling of its constitutionality. Even after it was upheld, Governor Scott still failed to act. Goodhue said advocacy groups are now asking the Department of Health and Human Services to intervene.

“Florida has not had one public meeting, established one rule or guideline or invested any public dollars into an effort that has taken other states years and hundreds of millions of dollars to do.”

Governor Scott has since said he will implement the healthcare law including the exchanges. But Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is still bashing the law. Progress Florida’s Darden Rice said so many people have stepped up to sign the petition because they’re not confident Florida officials can handle the changes under such a tight deadline.

“Because the level of trust with Governor Rick Scott is so low and this is given the Governor’s invalid opposition to the ACA up to now. People tune in and they want to be heard when there is a strong and a valid perception that the state might really want to thwart the law evidenced by Pam Bondi’s statements yesterday.”

The issue is getting attention from people in the healthcare industry too. Mona Mangat, a physician with the group Doctors for America said the bias shown by state lawmakers makes creating an efficient health insurance exchange market difficult.

“If this exchange is not created in a transparent fashion with input from all stakeholders – meaning consumers, physicians, insurance companies, PhRMA, all those things – the exchange will not be created in a fashion that works best for Florida and for Florida’s citizens. And so, at this point, with the short time frame that we have and the lack of any movement toward creating a health insurance exchange, we do support the HHS coming in and creating an exchange for Florida.”

Others in the field agree. The state could ask to partner with the federal government on creating an exchange. That would give them an extra two months to get ready. But Laura Brennaman, a nurse said it’s still not enough.

“I’m really passionate that the Department of Health and Human services should not offer Florida any extra leeway, extra time or extra waivers of any of the state health insurance standards just because we came late to the table in accepting the Affordable Care Act.”

She said the state has already demonstrated that they aren’t capable of meeting the needs of people in the state who need health coverage.

“Currently Florida has the third highest percentage of uninsured, low income children in the country. This demonstrates that Florida has not yet developed a seamless or a streamlined process to enroll any eligible consumers in health plans. We don’t have the capacity or the time left to develop this much more complex process to determine the correct insurance support for consumers accessing the health insurance exchange.”

Florida CHAIN and Progress Florida submitted the petition today to Kathleen Sebelius the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. But organizers will continue to collect petitions from consumers.

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