Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders didn't invite the enterprising "Obamacare Enrollment Team" that set up shop in a Tallahassee church this week and spread incomplete and inaccurate information on the Affordable Care Act. But they helped set the stage by being so hostile to the federal program that there is a dearth of federally funded navigators in the state to provide one-on-one assistance just when uninsured Floridians need it most. Tallahassee's leaders need to reconsider whom they are really hurting in their shortsighted aversion to ACA.
As the Tampa Bay Times' Tia Mitchell discovered this week in Tallahassee, Florida consumers are in danger of being misled on the details of the heath care reform law, particularly with the federal website, healthcare.gov, a dysfunctional mess. Mitchell attended a forum at St. Mary's Primitive Baptist Church in Tallahassee where presenters draped an "Obamacare Enrollment Center" banner across the pulpit and used the "O" logo from President Barack Obama's election campaign. The entire event seemed staged to deceive people into thinking they would get complete and accurate information on the ACA. But it was really the work of Stuart-based Fiorella Insurance Agency, and the information was far from complete or accurate.
Presenters didn't make clear that federal subsidies to buy private health insurance are only available for plans sold on the government marketplaces (not through private agencies like theirs) and for households who earn between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty line. The ACA marketplaces are not open to people 65 and older, who have access to Medicare — though many audience members appeared to be Medicare-eligible. Nor did the presenters point out that anyone making less than the poverty line is out of luck because, unlike 25 other states, Florida leaders opted not to expand Medicaid to cover the state's hundreds of thousands of poor adults.
The entire episode underscores a long-held concern by ACA advocates that consumers, lacking basic information, could easily buy a product that is not the best deal for them.
Florida's leaders have all but insured that is the case. Last spring, state lawmakers imposed extra hurdles for federally funded navigators to get on the job, requiring them to be finger-printed and pass a background check, requirements that don't apply to workers who help people enroll in Medicare or Medicaid. Scott raised baseless privacy concerns about using the navigators. And, in a move that could have been the most detrimental, he banned navigators from county health department offices — the very place that uninsured residents go to get medical assistance. There are only 150 licensed navigators in the entire state, while another 100 or so await approval.
If Scott and legislative leaders wanted to help the state's millions of uninsured, they would have looked for ways to get people clear information about the law and their options, as ACA-friendly states have done. Instead they have tried to undermine ACA at every turn, and now that the law is in effect, it's Floridians who could pay the price. Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz need to stand with Floridians, not unscrupulous enterprises seeking to profit off the confusion the Republican leaders helped create.