May 16, 2016—

Vote to expand health coverage

Kudos to Bayfront Medical Center for flourishing at the expense of the St. Petersburg locals who are most in need as public funds for uncompensated hospital care is set to expire. This is more reason why expanding Medicaid in Florida and closing the health care gap is critical. Can hospitals like St. Anthony’s continue to provide an escalating proportion of charity care, while our legislators turn back $51 billion of Florida’s earmarked federal tax dollars to cover our working poor families? Probably not.

For four consecutive sessions, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott have failed to accept federal dollars to provide coverage to nearly 600,000 people. That’s uninsured moms and dads, veterans and others who make too much money through work to qualify for Medicaid, but too little money to qualify for a federal subsidy to purchase health care insurance on their own.

What an irony that our governor has sued the federal government over the expiration of the uncompensated care funds, while defiantly refusing to accept the $51 billion to close the gap in health care coverage and pay for that same uncompensated care. Floridians have already paid those dollars and deserve that money back. Accepting that money would have reverberating positive impacts to our economy, boosting Florida jobs by nearly 120,000, increasing reimbursements to health care providers, and ensuring that uncompensated care is covered. Without the money, hospitals will not be able to survive; people without insurance will get sick and many will die.

This year, our elected officials face the impact of redistricting and will now have to run in districts that more fairly represent the people they serve. This gives us an unprecedented opportunity to hold our legislators accountable, to help struggling workers, families, and the uninsured. Cast your vote and hold them accountable to health care expansion in our state.

Dr. Julie Kessel, St. Petersburg

The author is the president of the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area, and the State League Regional Health Care Chair. She is also a Florida-trained physician and senior medical insurance executive with more than 20 years of clinical and industry experience.

Originally, this letter appeared in The Tampa Bay Times.

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