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The perils of Florida’s refusal to expand Medicaid

Charlene Dill is one of an estimated 2,000 people who expected to face dire health issues due to lack of access to care

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, attempted to support a compromise within his party to accept the federal funds of $51 billion via an ancillary system, but the more arch arguments in the State House – via House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel – shut any compromise down.

Now the governor refuses to even address the issue. It is an election year, after all.

Republicans have indicated that they do not intend to address Medicaid expansion during this year’s session, and no hearings have been scheduled, but that hasn’t stopped advocates from trying to press the issue, if only in remembrance of Dill. Just one week after her death, Woolrich traveled to Tallahassee with a coalition of groups – including SEIU, teachers and health care workers – to present their case in the Capitol rotunda.

“She worked really hard to provide for her kids,” Woolrich said from the lectern, surrounded by supporters holding up Dill’s picture. “She did baby-sitting, cleaned houses, collected cans for recycling and took them to recycling centers and got money for it, and sold vacuum cleaners. Whatever it took. But Charlene had health problems. She had pulmonary stenosis, sepsis from tooth decay, fibromyalgia and a lot of other health issues from these conditions. When she separated from her husband in 2009, that was last time she had reliable health insurance.”

Woolrich actually walked Dill through the process of the ACA online calculator and they found that she was in the gap. As recently as last October, Woolrich used online crowd-funding sources to help Dill get the medication she needed. Her heart condition had complicated all three of her pregnancies, and sometimes the hustle to survive wasn’t enough to make life bearable.

“People like Charlene are dying,” Russo says. “The thing is, the resources are there to pay for it. That’s what’s so mind-boggling about this situation. The money is there; it’s on the table.”

As a result, House Democrats – including local state Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando – are holding the expansion as a trump card in advancing this year’s $75 billion budget proposal. On April 3, Saunders released a statement justifying his no vote on the budget.

“Millions of dollars in revenue were left on the table that could have been generated by closing the online sales-tax loophole which has overwhelming support from the business community, both parties and, maybe most importantly, for a second year in a row we’ve left billions of dollars out which would give over a million people access to health care and create 60,000 jobs,” he said. “This budget does important things for many people, but it is a plan that unnecessarily leaves too many people out.”

And while there have been reports of House Minority Leader Perry Thurston Jr., D-Fort Lauderdale, pressuring Democrats to fall in a similar line, the budget has nonetheless received measurable bipartisan support, mostly because of pork and election optics. Despite appearances – like that cited by SEIU’s Russo, who praised the minority leader’s hard-line stance, saying, “That’s leadership. ‘You’re not going to have our votes’” – Thurston’s mandate doesn’t amount to much.

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