Healthcare advocates swarm House Speaker Will Weatherford's Wesley Chapel office: VIDEO

03/25/13 Janelle Irwin
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This month, both chambers of the Florida legislature rejected expanding Medicaid under the federal healthcare law. On Saturday seventy-five activists crowded the small parking lot in front of Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s Wesley Chapel office. Activists marched almost a mile along a busy stretch of highway and demanded that Weatherford and other state lawmakers change their minds.

“I see so many children who need medical care whose parents cannot afford to take them anywhere but the emergency room.”

That’s Polk County resident and retired public school teacher Linda McMullen.

“It’s not working, it hasn’t worked and it will not work in the future. We need to take advantage of affordable healthcare as is laid out in the federal government in the Obamacare health plan.”

Many hospitals and physicians have gotten on board with supporting Medicaid expansion including Tampa General ER doctor, Jason Wilson.

“My patients need access to healthcare and without it they face catastrophic financial situations when they come to see me and I am essentially their last resort. They’ve come to my emergency department because they have no where else to go.”

But even though Wilson said a lot of uninsured people wind up in the ER for ailments that could have been treated at lower cost facilities, those with Medicaid can get more preventative care.

“Their access to primary care is excellent. Their access to primary care is about the same as a private insurance company. So, their access to primary care goes way up. We think we do very good care in the emergency department, but at the same time we want to have a continuity of care and a network of care so that people are getting the right access to primary care.”

Right now, Wilson said about 20% of his patients are Medicaid recipients.

“And another, probably 15% could qualify for Medicaid if we expand it.”

Provisions in the Affordable Care Act would provide funding for states to expand Medicaid to include more people, but critics have claimed it’s risky to rely on federal dollars that could one day be taken away from states. Community activist Judi Breuggeman criticized Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford for opposing the expansion even though his own family admittedly benefited from Medicaid.

“Surely, if his own baby brother was helped by Medicaid, surely he can understand why the citizens of this state need the expansion.”

Other supporters of Medicaid expansion argue lawmakers don’t fully understand the impacts of not having access to healthcare. One of them, Gary Gibbons, helped organize the rally in front of Weatherford’s office.

“You see in the papers where the legislature, two weeks ago, decides that they are going to vote themselves a cost annually – well, monthly of $8.54 for each legislature for their own healthcare and their family coverage is $50, yet they say no to taking Medicaid expansion. They can afford their own coverage and yet they say no to people who can’t.”

Weatherford’s office was closed during the rally, but activists left several signs behind demanding lawmakers expand Medicaid.

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Good job, Janelle! Interesting that the other media outlets did not cover this. What does this tell you?