Miami Herald: State Could Help More Sick, Poor, But Won’t

By The Miami Herald Editorial Board

Miami-Dade County, in many respects, is a great place to live, but a new report reveals that for the poor and sick, it continues to be a harsh place where they can barely survive.

On Wednesday, the Florida Community Health Action Information Network, will unveil its latest findings — and they are discouraging for our most vulnerable residents. Not surprisingly, they confirm the findings of similar recent reports.

In a nutshell, one in four Miami area adults are in poor health; one in three working adults have no health coverage — and that’s despite the Affordable Care Act. In all of Florida, there are 2.8 million uninsured individuals.

Why should those with insurance care? The statewide consumer health-advocacy organization dedicated to increasing access to affordable healthcare is making a direct correlation between South Florida’s economic health and the physical health of its poor and disadvantaged: When the needy fall down the economic ladder; we’ll all feel it in our wallets. It’s a no-brainer that too many state lawmakers — and Gov. Scott, himself — fail to see, blinded as they are by ideology.

“The poor health status and high rates of chronic diseases like diabetes and HIV/AIDS dampen prospects for economic improvements,” said Laura Brennaman, policy and research director at Florida CHAIN and the report’s author.

For hospitals such as Jackson Memorial Hospital, charged with taking care of the uninsured, the burden stands to get worse. Why? Gov. Scott refuses to accept federal Medicaid expansion.

On a video that was clicked into viral status last week, Gov. Scott was verbally attacked at a Gainesville Starbucks by Cara Jennings, a former commissioner from Lake Worth, who harangued him for refusing the Medicaid expansion offered by the federal government. Her crude slur aside, she spoke for many Floridians getting by without health insurance. The governor has said that he wants the federal government to guarantee it will not stick the state with Medicaid-expansion costs down the road. But in the meantime, Florida taxpayers continue to pay for the most expensive care — delivered in emergency rooms — for sick, uninsured residents who often wait until severe pain and suffering force them to seek treatment.

On top of the fresh brouhaha created by the video which has put the spotlight back on the issue, Florida CHAIN is making the point again for the need for Medicaid expansion in Florida — a move that would bring 800,000 people under Medicaid’s umbrella.

Despite gains made under Obamacare, Miami-Dade continues to rank near the bottom, statewide, for several major indicators of health, the report says. The governor’s refusal to accept federal funding to close the coverage gap makes it difficult to address pressing issues such rising HIV/AIDS rates and access to mental healthcare. They would put an impossible burden on local governments and the safety-net system, the report says.

And more bad times are ahead. The report is being released as the size of the state’s Low-Income Pool (LIP) shrinks as the distribution formulas change, which means a $241 million shortfall for hospitals in Miami-Dade. That would truly affect essential services.

If Florida does not extend coverage to these low-income adults, taxpayers in Miami-Dade will likely have to raise their contributions to pay for uncompensated care. So wasteful and so unnecessary.