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A record-breaking number of Floridians signed up this year for health insurance through Obamacare. That’s the program, in case you’ve forgotten, that Republicans spent years trying to get rid of and once called “the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed.”
More than 3.2 million residents of the Sunshine State (20% of the Obamacare enrollment for the entire country) apparently don’t agree. They signed up in droves this year, a 19% jump over last year, the highest number in the country. And that’s even though Florida is the third most populous state in the nation and accounts for only 7% of the U.S. population.
Funny. Isn’t Florida supposed to be a red state now?
Healthcare is healthcare is healthcare, it turns out. A kid’s broken arm or a spouse’s cancer treatment has a way of making our political differences irrelevant; we just want to see a doctor. If these numbers are any indication, getting insurance coverage in a country where a big medical bill can wipe out your savings is a lot more important than whether someone with a D or an R after their name is responsible for the legislation that got you that policy to begin with.
Consumers have spoken. Obamacare? The Affordable Care Act? Call it anything you want, just give us insurance.
Rich don’t worry
The cost of medicine and hospitalization and tests is incredibly high in the United States, with spending topping $12,000 per capita in 2021, more than twice the average of other wealthy countries. We worry about being bankrupted by medical debt. We skimp on costly prescriptions and stretch out the time between doctor visits. In the United States, the only people who can afford to ignore the issue are the very rich and maybe some members of Congress — though that’s often the same thing.
Maybe that’s why the GOP has been so quiet about Obamacare these days. Sen. Rick Scott — Florida’s former governor who made his opposition to the ACA a key point in his political career — didn’t even mention it in his 11-point, grandly named “Rescue America” plan that was roundly rejected even by his own party. Scott, it bears mentioning, has a net worth somewhere in the $300 million range.
Maybe, just maybe, all those GOP vows to “repeal and replace” the ACA — they never came up with the “replace” part, by the way — weren’t about healthcare after all, but just politics, another calculation designed to drum up outrage.
That’s not to say Obamacare is perfect or even very good. It still costs too much for many people, and coverage isn’t always great. It leaves some people out. But, especially if you qualify for subsidies to substantially defray the costs, it’s a lot better than the alternative. Don’t forget, it ushered in two important changes that are very popular with Americans: Insurance companies can’t charge you more if you have a pre-existing condition and parents can keep kids on their policies until they turn 26.
Federal funds rejected
The ACA was always supposed to include the expansion of Medicaid, too, but Florida remains one of just 11 states that refuse to accept federal money to expand the program. The issue is newly relevant as Florida makes plans to shed an estimated 1.7 million people from the Medicaid rolls now that stimulus money from the pandemic is ending.
Gov. Ron DeSantis could push the ever-compliant Florida Legislature to finally agree to expand Medicaid under the ACA, and help our poorer residents. He might even summon some flicker of interest in all the people in his state who remain uninsured, about 2.6 million people in 2021. But he is too busy smashing the anger button, stoking fear about library books, Black history and Disney.
And anyway, his record in Congress shows where he’s coming from: He’s staunchly opposed to federal aid (except when he’s not) and even voted in 2013 to cut Social Security. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays if he becomes, as expected, a presidential candidate.
The ACA was passed a long time ago now, in 2010. Republicans, who spent more than a decade trying to undercut it, seem to have finally recognized that it’s too far along to take down. They’ve had a few wins that helped give them cover to, finally, let it go. In 2017, for example, Congress all but eliminated the much-reviled “individual mandate,” which required people to have health insurance, by zeroing out the tax penalty.
Meanwhile, though, people kept enrolling, especially Floridians.
Maybe there will be another attack on the ACA. But the numbers argue against it. So, in politics, it’s on to the next simmering resentment.
Culture wars, anyone?
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This story was originally published February 4, 2023 12:03 PM.