Florida is second worst state in health coverage

MIAMI – Finishing 49th in a field of fifty is reason to hang your head from shame – in any contest. But fresh news that Florida ranks just one short step from dead last in the nation in the percentage of people under 65 who have health insurance was greeted with anything but embarrassment or contrition from the Republican leaders in the state legislature. These are the very people who this year decided to turn down $50 billion in federal money for Medicaid expansion that would have provided coverage to as many as one million uninsured Floridians.

The most populous county in the state, international hot-spot of glitz and glamour, came in 66 out of 67 counties in percentage of people with health insurance.
The most populous county in the state, international hot-spot of glitz and glamour, came in 66 out of 67 counties in percentage of people with health insurance.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, the person most responsible for torpedoing Medicaid expansion, was unrepentant regarding the legislature’s breathtakingly mean-spirited action in turning down free money that would have helped some of the neediest people in the state. He offered instead a combination of bogus numbers and a healthy dose of the GOP’s characteristic ideology: dogmatic free-market fundamentalism and indiscriminate government-bashing.

“This year, the Florida House did not just say no to Medicaid expansion. We offered a free-market solution that strengthens the safety net and will provide more than 525,000 Floridians with private health insurance, not Medicaid. We should continue seeking solutions that allow Floridians access to quality healthcare, not government-run healthcare.”

Weatherford’s statement is so pathetic and illogical that a bright twelve-year-old could tear it apart. The reason Medicaid expansion is so vitally needed is that free market health care “solutions” have not been working for people of modest means, here or anywhere else in the country. If they had, 3.8 million people in this state alone – a quarter of the population – would not lack health insurance. Surely, if the health insurance industry could make a profit by ensuring these almost four million people, it would not need prodding from the Florida House of Representatives, which incidentally is as much a branch of government as the feds. And what exactly is the House offering 525,000 Floridians that is not available in the market, only at an unaffordable cost? Nothing; smoke and mirrors.

Finally, in this state especially, for a political leader to cavalierly imply that “government-run healthcare” is automatically inferior in quality to private health insurance takes real gall. There are millions of older people in Florida that rely on the biggest government-run healthcare program of all, namely Medicare. By all accounts, they like their Medicare and don’t think they are getting second-class care at all. But Weatherford’s logic implies that they are and that privatizing health care for the elderly would improve its quality. It wouldn’t. In fact, Medicare has much lower administrative costs than the private providers, which means it delivers more health care and less red tape for the buck. What privatization would increase is the already outrageous cost of medical care, the obscene profits of the private insurance companies and their campaign contributions to “free-market friendly” legislators. Oh, and for all his rhetoric, don’t expect Weatherford to run his next campaign on a platform of privatizing Medicare.

The closer you look at this picture, the uglier it gets. There is the fact that Florida is virtually the leader in the percentage of the medically uninsured in a country with by far the highest percentage of medically uninsured citizens in the developed world. This state is trailing badly against a very, very weak field. Then there is the figure of 500,000-plus. That’s the number of uninsured in Florida who are under nineteen – minors, kids and teenagers. There ought to be a law…

Our own county, Miami-Dade, has by far the largest number of uninsured – a whopping 744,000 people. If Florida is a medical insurance catastrophe within the larger U.S. disaster, Miami-Dade County is the epicenter of that catastrophe. The most populous county in the state, international hot-spot of glitz and glamour, came in 66 out of 67 counties in percentage of people with health insurance. We did manage to beat Hendry County, population around 40,000, by 0.6 percent!

The Republican belief in the free-market as the only conceivable solution to any and all problems is boundless. It’s a closed, cult-like belief system that is almost impossible to prove false with credible contrary evidence. That world view has been playing out for decades in every facet of American life, from climate to Wall Street to Main Street to Liberty City and the South Bronx, with bad results.

Republican policies on such things as lax (and less) taxes for the rich and pounding and pain for the poor are heartless and rapacious enough. But when it comes with playing with people’s lives and health, when we are dealing with refusing a gift of resources to prevent needless deaths and suffering for no good reason other than hatred of Obama(care), spite for the federal government, and deification of an entity that doesn’t exist (especially in healthcare), the mythical pure free market which holds little resemblance to how the U.S. economy really works, then stronger language is called for.

Republicans’ refusal to expand Medicaid in Florida and several other states despite zero cost is unconscionable and unspeakably cruel. It is also unworthy of a nation whose Constitution speaks of providing for the general welfare as a desirable and legitimate role for government.