Florida conflict on health care law divides voters
Sep 24, 2012
The following article was published in the Orlando Sentinel on September 23, 2012:
By William Gibson
WASHINGTON — Phyllis Kaufman is a lifelong Democrat in Tamarac who might vote for Republican Mitt Romneyin November, partly because she shares his belief that the new health-care law is a costly giveaway to freeloaders.
Sandra Sullivan is a Republican in Orlando who might vote for President Barack Obama, mostly because the new law covers cancer survivors like her, as well as other patients with pre-existing health problems.
Moving in opposite directions, these two Floridians reflect voters’ conflicting opinions about health care in this election year. It’s an especially important issue in a state where 3.9 million residents are uninsured, 3.5 million are covered by Medicare and 3.2 million depend on Medicaid.
Voters have a clear choice between Obama, who counts the Affordable Care Act as his signature legislative achievement, and Romney, who vows to try to repeal the law starting “on day one” while retaining some of its most popular provisions.
Florida itself embodies that conflict: The state so far has refused any steps to implement the new law yet could be among its biggest beneficiaries.
Florida led a lawsuit by Republican-run states that challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court. And Gov. Rick Scott has turned down millions of dollars of federal grants to create a state-run “exchange” — an online shopping site — to help consumers compare insurance plans and prices.
Scott and some Republicans in the Legislature also plan to block a dramatic expansion of Medicaid coverage under the law — which the high court allowed states to refuse — though the federal government would pay all the added costs for three years and more than 90 percent in later years.
Many voters side with Scott’s and Romney’s opposition for fear that the so-called “Obamacare” will prove costly, despite some projections that it will save money in the long run.
“It’s nice Obama wants to give everybody health care, but it’s going to cost a fortune. Can we really afford that?” said Mary Palermo, 80, a retired banker in Boca Raton. “He is just spending too much money, money, money.”
At the same time, health-care advocates in Florida are fervent promoters of the law, noting that their state would benefit enormously because of its older population and big gaps in insurance coverage.
Florida ranks third nationally in the number of uninsured individuals and families, with more than one in five residents lacking insurance.
“Now you have all these people running around with no insurance. So they have no health care, and whatever their problem is gets worse,” said Cheryle Davis-Darrell, 54, a former preschool teacher in West Palm Beach. “By the time they go to the emergency room they have to run all these tests. A lot of things that could have been prevented become more expensive, and everyone ends up paying anyway.”
Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, hope to repeal the law or cut funding, including money for expanded prescription drug coverage for Medicare patients that Obama says saved the average senior $641 through August of this year. Ryan’s budget plan — which passed the U.S. House this year — also would cut Medicaid by a third and continue the current reliance on emergency-room care to treat people with low incomes.
Romney said recently that he does want to retain provisions in the law that allow adult children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ policies and require insurers to cover patients with pre-existing health problems. He did not say how he would ensure that such coverage is affordable.
The pre-existing provision has proven popular with many voters, including Sullivan, 53, an Orlando Republican and a thyroid-cancer survivor who is weighing how to vote.
“I have heard a bunch of people go Democrat over that health plan, because they’ve had cancer,” she said. “I do think the Affordable Care Act is not about politics, it’s about my health. It’s about my family. Nobody in this country should have to go bankrupt over medical bills.”
But many voters, including some Democrats, say Obama is too quick to give away benefits and spend money.
“Let them get jobs and pay for their own,” said Kaufman, 67, a Tamarac Democrat and retired market researcher. “He [Obama] is going to give us this and that for free. A lot of people will take advantage and want a lot of things for nothing.”
Romney implied much the same when he told a group of donors in Boca Raton last May that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes but depend on the government for health care and other needs.
At the same time, he and fellow Republicans are attacking Obama and the health-care law for reducing the growth of Medicare spending by $716 billion over 10 years — though Ryan included similar savings in his budget. Obama has said most of the savings would be taken from drug companies, HMOs, doctors and other providers.
Romney and Ryan also propose cutting Medicare spending by giving elderly people a fixed amount of “premium support” to use when buying private insurance, leaving them to pay any additional costs. Ryan’s plan would apply to those now 54 and younger, and a newer version would give future patients the option of staying in something like traditional Medicare.
Obama says the Republican plan would cost the average future recipient more than $6,000 a year, a calculation based on an earlier version of the Ryan plan.
Polling in Florida and nationwide consistently have shown mixed reviews of the new law but an inclination to trust Obama more than Romney on health care generally.
For example, a Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll released last month found that likely voters in Florida favored Obama over Romney by 51 percent to 42 percent when asked, “Who do you think would do a better job on health care?”
“This issue may move a few voters, not so much the older generation as the younger income-stressed families with children,” said Susan MacManus, an expert on senior-citizen voters at the University of South Florida. “It resonates with these people — the notion that at least they’ve got a little something under Obamacare and are worried that if it’s taken away they will have nothing.
“Democrats have gotten better at linking health care to the economy. That’s now become the new challenge for Republicans.”