Florida is a sicker state because of Gov. Rick Scott’s partisanship

Florida is a sicker state because of Gov. Rick Scott’s partisanship


In a new Senate ad, Gov. Rick Scott claims that voters must send business executives like himself to Washington. “If you’re not getting the results, you’re not in business.”

So let’s look at Scott’s results as governor on health care in Florida.

They stink.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reported that the rate of Floridians without health insurance rose again last year, to 20.1 percent from 19.8 percent. Since Scott took office in 2011, Florida has ranked near the bottom on access to basic health coverage.

It gets worse. The Commonwealth Fund just ranked Florida above only Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi, based on a study of 43 health care metrics. Commonwealth ranked Florida below average in the South, which was by far the worst region.

Florida fared a little better in the new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Mortality rates among women for breast cancer, lung cancer and heart disease have declined. So has the number of women diagnosed with AIDS.

The report also noted, however, that “Florida ranks poorly on a cluster of data points related to women’s mental health — suicide mortality, average number of days per month of poor mental health, and average number of days per month that women have limited activity due to poor mental or physical health.” More women need “adequate access to preventive care.”

Only education consumes a larger share of the state budget than health care. Education and health care thus should be among any governor’s priorities. Education isn’t a Scott priority. Nor is health care for the man whose hospital company paid a $1.7 billion fine for defrauding the federal government.

The main reason for Florida’s poor performance is that Scott has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Though Scott expressed support for Medicaid expansion in 2013, he quickly backed off. Two years later, he sided with the Florida House against a Senate proposal that could have provided coverage for about 800,000 of the state’s working poor.

Every credible survey has shown that Medicaid expansion benefits those who obtain coverage and the states themselves. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that the roughly 15 million new Medicaid enrollees nationwide had fewer out-of-pocket medical expenses, lower medical debt and better credit. They also were less likely to face bankruptcy.

Unlike Scott, other Republican governors and legislatures have looked past their party’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act and focused on helping their states. Under GOP leadership — notably Gov. John Kasich — Ohio expanded Medicaid. Among enrollees, Kaiser reported, 50 percent no longer have any medical debt. Providers in Ohio have had to eat less in uncompensated care.

Medicaid expansion began in January 2014. In upholding most of the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court made expansion a state option, not a requirement. The federal government paid 100 percent of states’ expansion costs for three years. It’s now 95 percent and will be phased in to 90 percent by 2020.

So Scott and Republican leaders in Tallahassee have passed on many billions that could have improved lives, boosted Florida’s economy and made the state’s health care system better. That 2015 Senate plan to expand Medicaid included Republican favorites such as work requirements and co-pays by recipients. Expansion would have ended if federal reimbursement fell below 90 percent.

Yet the governor who stresses “results” has chosen politics and ideology — he opposed the ACA as a private citizen — over policy. Scott also ignores what Kaiser determines to be 202 studies refuting criticisms that Medicaid expansion limits access and provides poor care.

Scott might have a defense if he had offered any alternative to Medicaid expansion. But his only health care initiative was the hospital commission he formed in 2015. He did that to distract from his administration’s incompetence that nearly cost Florida federal money for hospitals that treat the uninsured.

Under Scott, Florida did lead the nation in one health care category — rate of new AIDS infections. That came after Scott had cut public health budgets for several years. The Scott administration responded by “revising” the number of new cases downward.

With more Floridians living paycheck to paycheck, health coverage becomes vital to keeping them stable. Scott has had nearly eight years to work on this issue. The results speak for themselves.

Randy Schultz’s email address is randy@bocamag.com.

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