As coronavirus crisis grows, FL Democrats slam Republicans for trying to repeal Obamacare

By: - March 24, 2020 7:00 am

Activists demonstrate in a Florida state House office in Miami, in support of expansion of health care coverage. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Ten years ago, the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, launched a landmark effort at overhauling America’s health care system.

The legislation led to praise, criticism, lawsuits, and political debates, and is expected to be a major campaign issue in the 2020 presidential election.

The 10-year anniversary comes as COVID-19 infections and deaths have expanded across the globe, including in the United States.

President Trump and his Republican allies in Florida want to repeal the law, also know as the ACA. They are part of a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law that is headed to oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court sometime in the fall.

On the 10th anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the ACA into law on Monday, three Democratic congressional members from Florida condemned Trump’s repeated efforts to repeal the health care coverage without offering any detailed replacement plan.

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, a Miami-Dade County Democrat who is the former head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, said some 100,000 residents in her congressional district have health insurance through the ACA.

“My constituents would be without health insurance while facing down the possibility of getting infected by this devastating virus,” Shalala said.

Even for Floridians who get their health insurance through their employers, Shalala noted that the law requires preventative health care, such as immunizations, to be covered without a co-payment for patients insured through such health plans.

“It means everybody should be able to get a flu shot at no cost. It also will mean that when we have a vaccine for COVID-19, your insurance will be required to cover it,” Shalala said. “And the president wants to take that away.”

If a patient develops medical complications because of the coronavirus, Shalala said the ACA caps out-of-pocket costs for consumers, another protection that would disappear with the repeal of the federal health care law.

“So, if you were to get sick, you would have a limit on how much you will ultimately have to pay,” she said.

‘An absurdity’

In a Sunday night press conference, Trump repeated his claim that he wants to get rid of Obamacare and replace it with better health coverage, without providing any details of the replacement plan.

“What we want to do is get rid of the bad health care and put in great health care,” Trump said.

“That is an absurdity,” Shalala said. “There’s no plan for great health care. There is only a plan to take away people’s access to health care.”

Shalala and U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County Democrat, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat who represents a portion of Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, highlighted the importance of the ACA in Florida in a phone conference with reporters.

They noted some 1.78 million Floridians used the federal exchange set up under the ACA to obtain health insurance in 2019 — the highest enrollment level of any state.

They cited a 2019 study from the Urban Institute showing that the repeal of ACA could increase the number of Florida’s non-elderly uninsured residents by 67 percent, or a total of 3.8 million residents.

They said the ACA requirement that health insurance policies covered preexisting conditions, like diabetes, benefits more than 130 million Americans, including 3.5 million Floridians. Trump has said he wants to keep the preexisting conditions protection, but has not provided any details.

“I’m one of the more than 130 million Americans with preexisting conditions who can rest easy knowing that an insurance company cannot deny me coverage because of my health,” said Wasserman Schultz, who is a breast cancer survivor.

“Right now, we face unprecedented threats to our health, some of it due to President Trump’s failure to prepare America for this coronavirus crisis. Yet, Republicans would still tear away Americans’ health care. It’s utterly shameful,” she said.

Mucarsel-Powell noted that the uninsured rate for Hispanic Americans dropped from 32 percent to 19 percent after the passage of the ACA.

And rather than repeal the law, Mucarsel-Powell said, she and other Democrats are pushing the Trump administration to re-open the ACA enrollment period, which normally runs in the fall, to help Americans who may have lost their health care coverage if they lost their jobs due to the unprecedented economic shutdown caused by the virus outbreak.

“The Affordable Care Act has been a game changer for working class families, especially in my district, which is a majority-minority district, and I will continue to fight for these protections,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

Medicaid expansion

The congressional Democrats also slammed Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and GOP legislative leaders for their continued opposition to expanding Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, under the ACA. If Florida expanded its program, 90 percent of the expansion cost would be covered by the federal government.

“Gov. DeSantis and the Republicans in the state have left nearly 1 million people without health care coverage that could have it immediately, that would be covered 90 percent by the federal government in terms of cost,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It is an outrageous, irresponsible, uncaring action or lack of action.”

The differences between Trump and the Democrats over Obamacare was one of the major contrasts in the 2016 presidential election.

And it will continue to be a major difference in this year’s campaign, with Democratic front-runner Joe Biden sending a letter to Trump on Monday calling for the president to drop the lawsuit seeking to overturn the ACA.

“At a time of national emergency, which is laying bare the existing vulnerabilities in our public health infrastructure, it is unconscionable that you are continuing to pursue a lawsuit designed to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance and protections under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the ban on insurers denying coverage or raising premiums due to pre-existing conditions,” Biden said.

The letter was first reported by Axios.

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Lloyd Dunkelberger
Lloyd Dunkelberger

Lloyd Dunkelberger has been covering Florida government for over three decades. He’s reported and edited in Tallahassee for the New York Times Regional Newspapers group, Florida Politics, and the News Service of Florida. He grew up in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County and got his journalism degree at the University of Florida.