Florida GOP serving politics, not people on health care reform

August 15, 2013 

Florida's Republican leadership appears hellbent on sabotaging implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the state, continuing to play ideological politics instead of showing concern for people's pocketbooks and health.

The Legislature passed a law this year that deregulates certain health insurance policies over the next two years and orders insurers to submit forms to clients that outline policy costs that can be pinned to ACA, commonly called Obamacare.

Passed in the waning days of the legislative session and little noticed, the law repeals state review of health insurance rates on policies issued after March 2010. The requirement to document charges because of ACA is dubious at best with all the dramatic and improved coverage changes.

The law further undermines ACA by prohibiting the state from enforcing the consumer protections in the act -- yet another injustice on Floridians.

Without state oversight of insurance rates, Florida health regulators estimated premiums will increase as much as 40 percent for individual policies and 20 percent for small business coverage -- although the expansion of benefits are partly responsible and federal subsidies will cover some of that cost in many instances.

But a new study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined plan costs would be about 20 percent lower than the estimates produced by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Americans earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for vouchers on a sliding scale. Individuals with incomes between $15,971 to $45,960 will be eligible for the tax subsidies as will families of four with incomes from $23,500 to $94,200.

The law's advocates -- including Gov. Rick Scott -- claim the federal government will review rates, this despite the fact that ACA did not empower Washington to regulate premiums.

That false assertion is only the latest manifestation of the GOP's open hostility toward Obamacare. The resulting politics over people position denies residents an equitable stake in health care.

Florida also rejected millions in federal grants that would have paid for the creation of health insurance exchanges, allowing residents to compare policies and premiums and purchase the best product for their circumstances. Oregon, on the other hand, received $303 million in grants for research, planning, information technology development, and implementation of its health insurance marketplace. Florida defaulted that task to the federal government.

By failing to authorize a Florida marketplace, the Legislature abdicated its responsibility to negotiate lower rates with insurance carriers as other states have done. Indeed, lawmakers went in the opposite direction with the draconian new law -- by blocking state insurance regulators from any rate negotiations with companies placing health plans on the federal exchange.

The Legislature's refusal to expand Medicaid under ACA robs the state of $51 billion over a decade, more jobs in the health and hospital industry, and leaves 1 million or more poor residents without any health program. Medicaid expansion was their only lifeline to health care under ACA since the working poor earn too much to qualify for regular Medicaid but not enough to be eligible for ACA's tax subsidies.

The Legislature in effect abandoned these poor residents -- as well as taxpayers and hospitals, as both will continue to be saddled with indigent care costs.

The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, as approved by the U.S Supreme Court. Republicans would have to control the White House, Senate and House in 2016 to repeal the law. In that time span, Americans will have some evidence of the law's impact on society.

Instead of shameless political posturing, Florida's GOP leaders should be serving residents as the nation transitions into a new health care system.

They should be held accountable moving forward as the new health insurance marketplaces open Oct. 1 and policies written under ACA become effective Jan. 1.

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