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Health care workers criticize Weatherford on Medicaid expansion

A man dressed as the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz speaks during a pro-Medicaid expansion rally at the Florida Capitol. The rally was sponsored by a union that represents health care workers.

Tia Mitchell | Times

A man dressed as the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz speaks during a pro-Medicaid expansion rally at the Florida Capitol. The rally was sponsored by a union that represents health care workers.

7

March

Using characters from the "Wizard of Oz" to drive their point, health care workers rallied at the Capitol today in support of Medicaid expansion. Alongside men dressed in costumes to portray the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man, speakers encouraged Republican lawmakers to "have a heart," "have courage" and "use your brain" when considering Medicaid expansion.

The harshest words were saved for House Speaker Will Weatherford, who opposes accepting federal dollars to grow Medicaid even after the revelation that his own family once utilized the program to pay medical bills.

"It's really about fairness and equity. Let's ensure that people in this state who make $26,000 or less will have the same health care that the speaker's family had," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, to cheers from the crowd. The rally was sponsored by the South Florida chapter of union SEIU, and over 300 people attended.

"Let's not be a hypocrite," executive vice president Monica Russo said later. "Your family needed health care at a very critical and difficult moment in the life of their family. And hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt could have been the answer, but Medicaid covered their expenses. We're not askng for anything more than what the Weatherford family had access to."

Sen. Oscar Braynon,  a Miami Gardens Democrat, said the Legislature needs "political courage" to ensure health care for the people of Florida. Democrats in both chambers support Medicaid expansion but, especially in the Florida House, many Republicans remain skeptical.

After a brief program, the workers "followed the yellow brick road" to Senate President Don Gaetz and Weatherford's office to urge them to support Medicaid expansion. Then they went to Scott office to thank him for his support.

Russo said she had a friendly meeting with members of the governor's staff before the rally and believes his office is committed to getting Medicaid expansion approved. Her organization has strongly opposed Scott in the past, but that doesn't impede working together now, she said.

"Listen. We're not ideological, we're practical," Russo said.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 7, 2013 3:52pm]

    

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