Florida’s number of uninsured adults is rising, new numbers show, even as Congress and the Trump administration consider legislation that could push millions more out of health coverage.
The nation’s uninsured rate remained essentially unchanged at an all-time low of 9 percent in 2016, but 13.8 percent of Floridians of all ages lacked health coverage, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s early release of estimates from the national health interview survey. Florida’s rate was third highest in the country.
Among people 18 to 64, the state’s uninsured rate climbed to 20 percent, up from 18.7 percent in 2015.
Florida rejected Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, shunning an option that lowered uninsured rates in many other states. State Republican leaders called it too expensive.
A big part of the political calculus heading toward 2018 elections: Whether voters blame Democrat-designed Obamacare or GOP stewardship for any perceived problems. Town hall meetings certainly show how prickly the issue can get.
President Trump backed legislation the House passed that rolls back close to $1 trillion in taxes. Congressional Budget Office analysts say the bill could lower costs for healthier, younger and higher-income people, but it is projected to raise costs for older, sicker and lower-income folks and push more Americans out of coverage — up to 24 million. Revised CBO projections could arrive next week, but it’s in the Senate’s hands now.
Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, urged by President Trump to run against Democrat Bill Nelson for a 2018 U.S. Senate seat, responded through a spokeswoman to a request for comment from The Palm Beach Post.
“As someone who grew up without access to healthcare, Gov. Scott knows firsthand how important improving access is to people across the state,” press secretary Lauren Schenone said. “The Governor has not gone line by line on the current bill but he believes Congress cannot give up on getting rid of Obamacare and is encouraged that something is being done.”
Scott supported increased flexibility in the House bill to let states have greater control over how they spend federal health dollars. In addition, Florida successfully lobbied the Trump administration for almost $1 billion in increased “Low Income Pool” money to help cover vulnerable people.
But supporters of the 2010 Affordable Care Act said the latest numbers highlight the stark choices facing the country now. They show 20 million more Americans gained coverage since the ACA passed. Florida led the nation in people using the federal marketplace to buy policies, more than 1.5 million.
“That means, when Donald Trump was elected, more Americans had health insurance than ever before,” said Ben Wakana, former health spokesman in the Obama administration. “There’s no reason for us to go backward — but unfortunately there’s a big risk that we will, due to Republicans’ relentless repeal drive and Trump’s sabotage of the health care system. Your move, Mr. Trump.”
As of Tuesday night, Trump, occupied by other things, had not tweeted about health since May 7, when he urged the Senate to take up the bill the House passed: “Republican Senators will not let the American people down! ObamaCare premiums and deductibles are way up – it was a lie and it is dead!”
Even before the Senate has acted, the Trump administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released new information Tuesday that it said would help states seek waivers from requirements in the Affordable Care Act. The ACA already allows some waivers, and more changes could come under proposed legislation.
“CMS is helping to provide guidance to states who want to pursue solutions to help lower costs and increase coverage choices for Americans struggling with unaffordable premiums and reduced competition in the insurance market, brought on by the ACA,” the release said.
Opponents say Trump’s own threats to withhold key Obamacare funding, such as billions in “cost sharing” dollars to lower what consumers pay, are helping bring about reduced competition, bolting insurers and rising premiums. The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, called such tactics a “gambit to hold hostage health care for millions of Americans.”
Florida’s numbers reflect its “coverage gap,” said Joseph F. Pennisi, executive director of the Florida Policy Institute, which calls itself a “common-sense” nonprofit think tank promoting general prosperity based in Lake Mary.
“There are more than 500,000 Floridians in this category, because they make too much money to qualify under Florida’s extremely restrictive Medicaid income standards (for a family of four, the adults must have an annual income of less than $7,000 to be eligible) but too little to qualify for subsidies in the federal marketplace,” Pennisi said by email. “There is a dramatic difference in uninsured rates between states that expanded Medicaid and non-expansion states. Florida could see a major reduction in its uninsured rate if it expands coverage.”
He continued, “Florida made some gains in terms of the percentage of insured residents thanks to the ACA. However, that’s being threatened now by the American Health Care Act, which would result in millions of people across the U.S. losing coverage.”
Highest uninsured rates for health
Oklahoma 16.5 %
Florida 2016 20%
Florida 2015 18.7%
Florida 2014 23%
Source: Centers for Disease Control