Polivka-West: A Pinched Concept of Compassion

By LuMarie Polivka-West, published in The Tampa Bay Times

After recently losing his job as Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. John Armstrong was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to serve as deputy secretary for administrative services with the Department of Health. As a result, Armstrong, who has colon cancer and is on administrative leave, will remain on the payroll and receive state health benefits.

After the Legislature did not confirm Armstrong as surgeon general, the governor exhibited compassion by allowing him to retain employment and maintain his health care in his hour of need. Meanwhile, as many as 600,000 Floridians are left without access to care because of the state’s decision not to close the coverage gap.

The Affordable Care Act calls on states to expand access to state-sponsored health coverage for individuals who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,240 for an individual and $33,465 for a family of four). For the past three years, Scott and the Legislature have rejected calls for closing the coverage gap, leaving low-income working Floridians without access to coverage or care.

This past session, legislation was introduced (SB 629 and HB 856) that would draw down more than $71 billion paid by Florida taxpayers to the federal government to effectively close the coverage gap. Neither bill was heard by a committee even once during the 60-day session.

Scott’s compassion toward Armstrong as he battles a life-threatening illness is commendable. If only he and his colleagues in Tallahassee could extend the same compassion to hundreds of thousands of our neighbors stuck in the coverage gap, they too would have the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives.

LuMarie Polivka-West serves on the board of directors of Florida CHAIN, a statewide consumer health advocacy organization.