Friday, April 27, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Why won't lawmakers help these Floridians?

The Florida Legislature is poised to adjourn Friday without accepting $51 billion in federal Medicaid expansion money that would provide health coverage to nearly 1 million Floridians. House Republicans are refusing the federal money. They won't listen to the governor or the Senate. They should at least listen to the Floridians they are hurting.

Jesse Sarell, Hillsborough County

Jesse Sarell moved from Ohio to Tampa about a year ago, figuring the job market in Florida was better. It hasn't worked out.

The 35-year-old works for a temporary employment agency. He unloads trucks, cleans industrial pipes and performs other backbreaking tasks at job sites throughout Hillsborough County. He makes about $250 a week, and he has no health insurance.

It wasn't always this way. Years ago, Sarell was a Merchant Marine and earned a good living. He had health insurance and didn't think twice before going to the dentist or the doctor. "Back then, when I had health care, it was a regular thing getting a checkup," Sarell said.

But since moving to Florida to find work and help his sister care for her family, Sarell has not found a job that offers health insurance, and his two abscessed teeth are painful. "I'm afraid to even go into a dentist's office,'' he said. "I don't know who'd even see me. It's embarrassing. I don't know what to do."

If Sarell gets sick, he goes to the hospital emergency room. "It's scary,'' he said, "and there are a lot of people who are worse off than I am."

If Florida accepted the Medicaid expansion, Sarell would have health coverage.

Kim Gardner, Pasco County

Kim Gardner and her husband, Mark, can no longer afford the major medical policy they had until 2009. When the economy tanked, so did their ability to pay the premium. The family business, Gardner's Fencing & Tree Service, cleared $16,000 last year.

For Kim Gardner, 52, the lack of insurance means she has had forgo treatments for asthma and allergies. The bigger concern, though, is daughter Jennifer, 21, a part-time grocery store worker and part-time college student, who has been without coverage from Florida Healthy Kids Corp. since she turned 18.

Six years ago, the teenager complained of migraine headaches and suffered what appeared to be a miniature stroke. It turned out a cyst at her pituitary gland had burst, and she was hospitalized with bleeding on the brain. She's stable now, but the MRIs, blood work and follow-up care ended when the insurance coverage did.

"We don't know. She seems to be stable," her mother says. "There is a slight chance as she gets older she could have more problems down the road. That's a scary thought.''

If Florida accepted the Medicaid expansion, the Gardners and their daughter would have health coverage.

Joslyn Elliott, Pasco County

The irony is not lost on Joslyn Elliott. She worked for years as an office manager for a medical practice in Lutz, where she worked with the poor and sometimes spent her lunch hours going to thrift stores to shop for patients. Now Elliott needs health care coverage.

Elliott is unemployed, has no income and lives with her ex-husband in his mobile home. She gets $200 a month in food stamps and does not qualify for Medicaid now because she is a childless adult.

Elliott has diabetes, high blood pressure, nerve damage, torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders, bulging discs in her back, irritable bowel syndrome and other ailments. She was denied Social Security disability insurance and does not qualify for Medicaid. She used to go to a low-cost clinic but couldn't afford the co-payments. She went without treatment until Pasco County began its mobile medical unit last year. She turned 55 in November and now can be treated at the CARES clinic at the Claude Pepper Senior Center in New Port Richey, which does not charge a fee.

"I'm supposed to be on all kind of medications, but I can't afford them,'' she said. The only thing she takes is the blood pressure medication Lisinopril that she obtains for free at Publix.

"Florida has never prepared for the influx of people who come here. I stand in the food lines with engineers, construction workers, the elderly. They're all there. I never expected this to happen to me.

"Lives are disrupted everywhere I look. Families are falling apart from the economy. The lack of health care, lack of dental care. I think they (legislators) are ignorant. They're really shortsighted. Apparently they have no idea what's happening in this state. They should stand in some of these people's shoes.''

If Florida accepted the Medicaid expansion, Elliott would have health coverage.

John Reddick, Pinellas County

John Reddick learned his lesson last year. Don't go back to the doctor without insurance.

The 34-year-old St. Petersburg resident had stomach pains. But his full-time job as a dietary aide at a nursing home offers no health insurance, and he makes less than $15,000 a year.

He paid $100 to see a doctor.

"When I go to the doctor, I have to pay cash," he said. "That's why I haven't really been going. I can't afford it."

Reddick works days, sometimes until early morning, and up to six days a week, whatever it takes. On his days off, he cuts grass for a few extra bucks and helps care for his girlfriend's children. If he needs a doctor, he goes to the emergency room at Bayfront Medical Center. Forget about a primary physician or preventive medicine.

"Some days I just go through the pain," Reddick said. "You've got to live."

If Florida accepted the Medicaid expansion, he would have health coverage.

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