Nearly 1.7 million uninsured Floridians will soon be able to buy coverage for less than $100 a month, according to a new report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
With the second highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation, Florida is estimated to have about 3.5 million such men, women and children; most with very low incomes and high health risks, people who often delay seeking medical attention until critical conditions force them to hospital emergency rooms (ERs), at the ultimate expense of middle/upper class taxpayers.
Putting politics aside, one common sense reason often cited for supporting the Affordable Care Act is that it will save those taxpayers countless millions in the years to come - if everyone get insured and out of ERs.
The new HHS study estimates that about 300,000 of 3.5 million uninsured Floridians can afford to buy coverage from new health insurance exchanges without being subsidized. The remaining 3.2 million people are projected to be eligible for a sliding scale of subsidies that will finally get them insured and give them the kind of preventive and ongoing care that keeps them out of ERs.
A majority, 53% according to the study, will end up paying less than $100 a month for health insurance coverage, and the peace of mind that comes with it.
The remaining 47% that receive subsidies will pay a little more per month and year, but never more than 9.5% of their annual income.
Given that the only way higher income taxpayers and small businesses will see real cost savings is if almost all citizens end up getting insured and staying out of emergency rooms, there will be a penalty charge this year of $95 for those who refuse to purchase coverage. That charge will increase incrementally each year ahead.
Even though health insurance for a poor family for less than a hundred dollars a month sounds affordable, the sad truth is that this will remain a big burden for many in the Sunshine State. This raises a serious question about what degree of compliance will come with a plan so dependent on full cooperation.
The good news is that the Affordable Care Act has had an answer to that question ready to go for a long time. The expansion of federal Medicaid coverage to include over a million more low income people in Florida would go a long way to helping national health reform succeed in the state, ensuring all those millions in cost savings for higher income people and businesses in the future.
The bad news is that the Florida House of Representatives under the tight control of anti-Obamacare conservatives like Speaker Will Weatherford has so far blocked Medicaid expansion. This wrench was thrown in the works even though the Florida Senate passed a workable, private insurance-based plan to accept rather than reject the Medicaid billions being offered by the federal government to help Florida solve its uninsured crisis.
While governors of a number of other states with similar legislative logjams have been able to broker agreements that kept moving the health reform ball down field, it must be noted that Governor Rick Scott, although publicly claiming he was in favor of Medicaid expansion, has steadfastly remained on the sidelines without even attempting to forge a compromise with House conservatives.