Pushback against Florida's decision not to implement parts of new federal healthcare law

11/08/11 Janelle Irwin
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Florida has put off implementing some provisions of the Affordable Care Act set to take effect in 2014. But a local non-profit wants residents to know how those provisions could provide expanded healthcare options for Floridians.

In a letter to cabinet officials and agency leaders, Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon called the Affordable Care Act “a commandeering of state insurance regulatory resources" and instructed them not to implement it until it was further reviewed by the state legislature. Democratic State Representative Janet Cruz said that action is a direct attack on Floridians who would benefit from health care reform.

“Last fall, Florida’s State Speaker banned state employees including legislators from spending state resources that would allow Florida to implement the Affordable Care Act. This amounts, in my opinion, to a gag order on state employees. What did they say? They said, keep you from discussing or researching anything, any piece of this law. Well, I’m here today to tell you that that is ridiculous and we Floridians want affordable, quality healthcare. We deserve that. It’s not a privilege. In my opinion, it’s a right.”

And her colleague, Democratic State Representative Darryl Rouson met with Governor Rick Scott with members of the Black Caucus to discuss President Obama’s healthcare plan. He asked that Scott refer to the plan by its formal name, not by the one coined by its opponents.

“He said, no, it’s Obamacare. And that brings me to the point that it’s shameful, that Florida continues to lead this multi-state effort to defeat this legislation that will do more to help the masses of people gain healthcare and afford healthcare than anything else that’s been done. It’s personal.”

Patrick Cannon is the advocacy director for the Florida Community Health Action Information Network, or Florida CHAIN. He said if Florida doesn’t remove the so-called gag order on implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the state will be hard-pressed to meet the 2014 deadline for some of its major provisions. He added the state has declined funding intended to help states transition.

“There’s been a lot of money rejected. About $70 million that Florida had access to. Either they were awarded and turned away or had an opportunity to get it and decided not to get it. Cancer prevention, community health clinics, consumer assistance, exchange planning, rate review, all of those things that Florida decided that they did not want to take that money because it was associated with the Affordable Care act. But they did take money for abstinence education which is also available through the Affordable Care Act.”

The state has grappled with whether or not to accept 3.4 million dollars in funding for a maternal, infant and early childhood home visit program associated with the healthcare law. The state first rejected the money, then had to accept it in order to qualify for funds for a Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, a program that benefits public education. But Natalia Cales of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is concerned Governor Scott may reject the home visit funds if they come with strings attached.

“The state of Florida decided that they did not want that funding, but now they find out that if they don’t accept this funding there’s a lot of money on the table for education. So there’s a loop hole in that. So now they’re trying to reconsider and kind of back track. I assume that they money will come through because there’s a lot of money that needs to be spent here in education. But they haven’t made a final decision yet.”

That home visit program would provide information to expectant mothers to help them have successful pregnancies. Doctor Charles Mahan, a former obstetrician and University of South Florida professor said Florida and the rest of the country need educational programs to improve the dismal statistics concerning both fetal and maternal deaths.

“It was national prematurity day. The March of Dimes grades all the states as far as how they do as far as producing, or trying not to produce premature babies – babies under five and a half pounds – and Florida went from an F to a D. The only state that got even a B was Vermont, but the whole country is in bad shape as far as this issue.”

Florida also rejected federal grant money for the Money Follows the Person program that would help people in nursing homes receive in-home care and in some cases, avoid the facilities entirely. Brenda Ruehl of Self Reliance, Incorporated said that money would have helped more than just the elderly.

“Because you are going to have to exhaust all of your financial resources to cover those additional medical expenses. But also, nobody’s going to build you a ramp. Nobody’s going to help you get an accessible vehicle. If you need someone to come and stay with you so that your spouse or whoever you live with can work, you’re going to have to pay for that and that’s really pricey. So, the Money Follows the Person, the 35.7 million dollars it just really really angers me because that money, that money, is the money that helps people return their homes from a nursing home.”

Despite the numerous grants rejected by Florida, residents still have a lot to look forward to when many of the most in-depth provisions of the law take effect. People shopping for insurance will be able to do so through insurance exchanges which were compared to websites like Travelocity where users can compare competitors’ prices. Cales said even though Florida may not be prepared to implement that program, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will ensure they are available.

Here's our previous Affordable Care Act coverage on WMNF News.

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