Along with the rest of the country, I keenly followed the Supreme Court deliberations on the federal health care law. And I think about what the success or failure of the Affordable Care Act means for a state like ours. Many Floridians don't realize our position in the nation when it comes to our collective health.
Perhaps it won't surprise you, given that Florida is a mecca for retirees, that we have the second highest population of Medicare recipients in the country. But did you know we have 4 million uninsured working poor, 3 million Medicaid recipients and that we rank third in the country for residents who lack basic health care coverage?
While Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi lead the charge in battling the nation's health care law, the stakes could not be higher for the Sunshine State. While other states move forward, Florida is returning federal funds and refusing to move forward with a Health Care Exchange, a required step that is designed to provide us, the consumers, with information about what health care options are available, their costs and their benefits.
And while many have strong opinions on the bill, the fact is, after two years, most of us don't really have the facts. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey showed fewer than 1 percent of Americans has even a basic understanding of the law. Because implementation was delayed to hold down costs and minimize disruption as more Americans were covered, many do not really understand what is at stake.
How much do you really know? And how much are we willing to give up once we realize what we have gained?
• Did you know that young children can no longer be denied insurance — or families charged more because of the child's pre-existing medical conditions? As the law phases in more completely by 2014, no insurance company can use pre-existing conditions to deny anyone — and that means you — coverage.
• Did you know that starting in 2014, no longer can women be charged more than men?
• Did you know Florida seniors will save money and have better access to lifesaving drugs because the health care law closes the doughnut hole gap in coverage for prescriptions? More than 355,000 seniors in Florida have saved $215 million already — an average savings per beneficiary of $606. What will happen to these savings for seniors' prescriptions if the law is struck down?
• Did you know that the law emphasizes prevention and finding disease in the earlier stages, saving lives and costs? Do you need a Pap test, mammogram or colonoscopy? Well, no longer will you pay co-pays or deductibles, which will increase the use of these preventive tests and help to prevent deadly diseases. More than 2.5 million Floridians have already used the no-cost annual checkups and screenings since the health care law removed co-pays and deductibles.
• And there's more. Insurance companies can no longer drop your coverage, hike rates on you due to illness or put a lifetime dollar limit on your care, starting in 2014.
Originally proposed in the early 1990s by Republican senators, the insurance coverage mandate has been endorsed by a number of Republicans and Democrats as well as a wide range of policy groups of diverse political perspectives. They recognized the importance of an individual mandate as necessary to keep a mix of young, old, healthy and sick in the insurance pool to share the risk and make health care affordable, just like auto insurance.
The Florida League of Women Voters is doing its part to help educate consumers about what is actually in the law — how it affects your health, your family and your pocketbook. We're urging the state to take steps toward a Florida Health Care Exchange. All of us need information on plans, benefits and costs so we can make informed choices.
Shape your destiny, protect yourself, your family, your pocketbook. Be an informed voter.
Deirdre Macnab is the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.