Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Republicans' opposition to health care plan shows GOP divide

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ron DeSantis represent two sides to the Republican split.

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ron DeSantis represent two sides to the Republican split.

WASHINGTON — Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ron DeSantis cut different profiles in the Republican Party, a veteran with moderate leanings and a relative newcomer who is deeply conservative, but together they represent the threat facing the GOP plan to ditch the Affordable Care Act.

Both oppose the legislation, which House Speaker Paul Ryan is pushing through despite growing resistance from factions within the party.

Ros-Lehtinen, of Miami, says the plan goes too far. "Too many of my constituents will lose insurance and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their health care," she said. DeSantis, of Palm Coast, says it doesn't go far enough. "By retaining the core features of Obamacare, the American Health Care Act fails to address the escalating cost of health insurance."

Ryan cannot afford to lose many votes like these, and other Florida Republicans dislike the plan for similar reasons. Still others offer measured support or refuse to comment, a reticence that highlights the challenge of turning a seven-year campaign against Obamacare into reality.

"The framework bill is far from perfect," said Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, who represents a swing district on the east coast and has faced angry constituents at town halls. "The only way we can fix the failures of Obamacare is through a fully transparent process that engages voices all across the country to revise and improve upon this plan."

The stakes escalated this week when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the proposal would result in 14 million fewer people with health care coverage in 2018 and 24 million by 2026. Many would be older Americans as the plan drives up premiums to the point they would drop coverage, no longer facing the Obamacare tax penalty for doing so.

That hits hard in Florida, which has been a leading state for Obamacare, some 1.7 million people, and therefore could experience the biggest rise in the uninsured if the American Health Care Act is adopted, experts say.

More than 90 percent of Floridians with an Obamacare plan in 2016 received government subsidies to lower costs, and more than half had an annual household income that was less than $17,820 for an individual or $30,000 for a family of three.

The GOP plan replaces premium tax credits and subsidies based on age, income and local insurance cost with a flat tax credit based on age. While Obamacare restricted insurers to charging a 64-year-old person three times a 21-year-old, the plan raises the limit to five times.

That 21-year-old would see premiums drop 20 to 25 percent by 2026, but the older person's premium would rise by 20 to 25 percent. Put another way, a young person earning $26,500 a year would pay $1,450 in premiums, down from $1,700 under Obamacare, while an older person with the same income would see rates climb to as much as $14,600 from $1,700 a year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"We're one of the oldest states in the country, and you would think the Florida delegation would be very concerned about the impact," said Jeff Johnson, AARP state director. "People think everyone is 85 and playing golf, but Florida has a very large baby boomer population. Some of them still have kids in college. Just about all of them are still in the workforce."

An underlying fear, Johnson said, is older people would postpone treatment until they can enter Medicare at age 65, placing greater burden on that system.

What's more, 4.3 million children, pregnant women, low-income and disabled Floridians would see reductions in Medicaid coverage and access to programs, according to projections. Hospitals with high numbers of uninsured and Medicaid patients would be forced to cut back on services and pass along cost increases to insured patients.

"There are significant consequences for Florida," Steven Ullmann, a University of Miami expert on health policy, told the Miami Herald.

While those concerns are paramount for Ros-Lehtinen, whose district in January had the largest number of Obamacare enrollees in the country, about 96,300, conservatives such as DeSantis think the plan retains too many features of the current system. They view Ryan's plan as "Obamacare Lite."

Against that backdrop, lawmakers are proceeding cautiously.

A number of Florida Republican lawmakers declined to say where they stand on the bill. "Congressman (Matt) Gaetz believes legislation should be read and fully understood. He is actively engaged in that process now," said a spokeswoman for the conservative freshman from Fort Walton Beach.

Gaetz, who upon joining Congress in January declared he had "come to bury Obamacare," is a member of the Budget Committee that will take up the bill today. Four Republican votes against the plan could halt its progress.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, of Miami, who is also on the committee, echoed Ros-Lehtinen on Wednesday, though he did not say he opposed the plan. "I am concerned about the impact this bill could have on low-income and elderly populations," he said.

Some lawmakers are facing campaign-style pressure. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge has not said where he stands, but television ads from a group tied to Ryan call on constituents to tell Posey to "vote with President Trump" and support the bill.

The American Action Network has also paid for ads in the district of DeSantis and another conservative, Rep. Ted Yoho, of Gainesville. So far, it hasn't worked. "I would not support it in its present form," Yoho said Tuesday on MSNBC. "But we're working in the right direction. … It's not a finished product."

The group also has placed a TV ad in the Miami district of Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a moderate who last week advanced the bill through the Ways and Means Committee (as did Rep. Vern Buchanan, of Sarasota). The ad drops the Donald Trump mention, and for good reason: Hillary Clinton easily won the district.

Some Republicans are highlighting positive aspects of the plan, including the CBO's estimate it would reduce the budget deficit by $337 billion over a decade. The proposal retains popular Obamacare provisions that protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, allow children to stay on their parents' plans until age 26 and eliminate lifetime caps on coverage.

"This legislation is only phase one of three to further lower costs and increase choice for families," said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, who as a deputy whip will face the job of corralling votes. "By repealing and replacing Obamacare, we are keeping our promise to the American people. We are putting patients first."

Rep. Tom Rooney, of Okeechobee, said: "When discussing the CBO's analysis of the impact of the AHCA, it's important to tell the whole story. While CBO did estimate that 14 million more people would be uninsured under the AHCA in 2018, they go on to explain that 'most of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate,' which was Obamacare's plan to make people buy insurance. Obamacare relied on this mandate to help subsidize premiums and inflate the number of people the law covered."

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio stopped short of endorsing the proposal: "I think the House bill is a work in progress."

There is no ambiguity on where Florida Democrats stand: They are united in opposition.

Information from Miami Herald reporter Daniel Chang was used in this report.

Click here to sign up for our 'Daily Buzz on Florida Politics' newsletter

Get the day's five most important links in Florida politics in an email from the Tampa Bay Times' political team sent at 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.


Florida Republicans' opposition to health care plan shows GOP divide 03/15/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 9:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut


    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview


    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander


    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]