Sunday, January 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Senate bill sacrifices health care for tax cuts

No wonder Senate Republicans drafted their health care legislation in secret. Beneath the surface, it looks no better than the House version that even President Donald Trump has called mean. This remains a massive tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of the poor, the middle class and the elderly, and it would cost millions of Americans their health insurance. It would be bad for Florida and the nation, and the Senate would be foolish to rush to vote next week on such a cynical, flawed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate bill is not health care reform. It is health care rationing, forcing many to pay more for less coverage and limiting Medicaid spending in ways that are even crueler than the House bill envisions. It may score slightly better than the House version when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office releases its assessment next week, but that will be because of the way the Senate bill's provisions are crafted and timed rather than any epiphany about the importance of accessible, affordable health care.

There are cosmetic improvements in the Senate bill, but don't take them at face value. For example, the Senate would keep roughly the same sorts of tax credits for health coverage available in the Affordable Care Act — but those tax credits would be significantly cut in 2020 and tied to coverage that is less generous. Older people would be hit hardest, and most everyone who buys subsidized coverage now would face significantly higher premiums and higher deductibles. One of the prominent complaints consumers have that they are paying too much for coverage even with subsidies, not that they aren't paying enough.

Another example: The Senate bill appears to be kinder than the House bill to millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, who cannot be denied coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But in practice, states could have the freedom to eliminate current coverage requirements for all sorts of essential benefits, from maternity care to mental health and substance abuse. States also could kill annual and lifetime limits on out-of-pocket expenses. That means people with pre-existing conditions in states that seek the flexibility — and you can bet Florida would be among the first in line — may find no coverage or coverage that is prohibitively expensive.

This legislation is full of mixed messages. It keeps the Affordable Care Act marketplaces and even provides money to prop them up for a couple of years. Then it undermines the stability of the marketplaces by eliminating the individual mandate to have coverage, which means there would be fewer healthy people to share the risk and rates would have to be even higher. It allows the 31 states that wisely expanded Medicaid to keep getting funding at the same level until 2021 and then continues it at a reduced level for another two years. But the federal money drops so deeply in 2024 that it's unlikely many states would keep Medicaid expansion.

What is unmistakable is the Senate bill's thorough gutting of Medicaid as an entitlement, a long-held Republican goal. It would put a new limit on per person Medicaid spending based on each state's historical spending, and that limit would rise much more slowly than current projections. This would be a disaster in a state like Florida that has been miserly for years. Or states could get a lump sum of federal money to help cover Medicaid costs, which Gov. Rick Scott advocates. But that lump sum would not be nearly enough, and Florida state lawmakers who are allergic to raising taxes would be cutting coverage or further limiting Medicaid enrollment to make ends meet.

The Affordable Care Act has its issues, and it needs more work to lower premiums and deductibles. But it has provided health coverage to more than 1.7 million Floridians and helped thousands more get Medicaid coverage they already were eligible to receive. The Senate bill would make health care less affordable and less accessible. It would cut billions in Medicaid spending and give wealthy Americans billions in tax cuts. The losers would be the poor, the middle-income families and the elderly. Any reasonable Senate Republican, including Sen. Marco Rubio, should reject these untenable tradeoffs and insist on better.

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Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Ignoring all available evidence that screen time and social media exposure can be harmful to kids, Facebook recently unveiled a new messaging app targeting children under 13. It’s yet another battlefront for parents who have to constantly combat the ...
Published: 01/21/18
Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18