ST. PETERSBURG — As the new health marketplaces began Tuesday, about four dozen people rallied along St. Petersburg's waterfront to urge the state Legislature to bring more poor people into the ranks of the insured.
The Affordable Care Act intended to cover the poor by expanding the Medicaid program, and allocated funds to do that. But Florida is among the states rejecting that offer, leaving about a million poor people as they are now, relying on free clinics and hospital emergency rooms for care.
Uninsured people who use emergency rooms for basic care create a "hidden tax'' on businesses and citizens who do buy health insurance, said Ann Drake McMullen, representing the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
"This will make Florida less competitive than the states that are removing the hidden tax,'' McMullen said.
Government "invests in steel and mortar capital,'' said Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP. "We need to invest in human capital in order to maintain it.''
One in four Floridians lack health care. With economists estimating that thousands of new jobs would result from a Medicaid expansion, the idea is supported by Gov. Rick Scott, the health care industry and Associated Industries of Florida.
But the Legislature, which controls Medicaid rules, has balked. Some lawmakers said the cost of Medicaid expansion will exceed projections. Others said the state should have more flexibility to keep out childless adults, who would gain new coverage under the Medicaid expansion.
The League of Women Voters organized the rally, held under shady oaks with red, white and blue signs. A handful of onlookers biking or strolling through the park stopped to listen.
"This is not a political issue. This is just math,'' said Karl Nurse, chairman of the St, Petersburg City Council and a small business owner. "Let's just solve this problem and leave the ideology at the door.''