Florida's top Republican candidates — Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate, Rick Scott for governor and Pam Bondi for attorney general — are whipping up supporters by promising to fight health care reform to the death. Their time would be better spent figuring out how to best make the reforms work for Floridians desperate for accessible, affordable coverage.
Contrary to the Republican rhetoric, the health care reforms are not socialized medicine. They are not a government takeover. They are not taking away your doctor (in fact, Scott and Republican legislators would do that to Medicaid patients by forcing them into health maintenance organizations to save money). Most Americans still will get private health insurance through their employers. That little detail gets lost on the campaign trail and at Republican gatherings like the one in Orlando earlier this month.
In fact, new studies from the Rand Corp. and the Commonwealth Fund confirm some of the major benefits of the health care reforms. Rand finds that an additional 13.6 million workers will be covered by private insurance after new state health insurance exchanges come on line in 2014. The report says by 2016 workers at small companies of 50 or fewer employees will benefit most, with the portion of workers covered at those firms rising from 60 percent to nearly 86 percent. And small businesses, the Commonwealth Fund points out, will receive federal tax credits starting this year to help offset insurance premium costs. Those credits for some small firms that buy health insurance through the new exchanges in 2014 will cover 50 percent of the employers' premium contribution. But those specifics are lost in the flurry of campaign ads and speeches.
To be sure, the projections about accessibility are rosier than those on affordability. A new government forecast earlier this month projects average annual health care costs will rise two-tenths of 1 percent more through 2019 than they would have without the new law. Year by year, the costs actually are lower than they would be otherwise after a spike in 2014. That detail also is likely to be ignored by critics, but there is no question that more needs to be done to control health care costs.
The bottom line is that health care reform is a step in the right direction, despite the Republicans' loud complaints and the Democrats' reluctance to defend it before a skeptical electorate. Starting this month, parents can keep their children up to age 26 on their family policies. Insurers can no longer cancel coverage of sick policyholders. Insurance pools for the uninsured with pre-existing conditions are open, although the premiums remain out of reach for some. And dozens of local Florida governments and businesses have been approved to receive federal reimbursements to help cover costs of maintaining health coverage for early retirees 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare. Among them: the cities of Largo, Clearwater and St. Petersburg; Teco Energy; and Eckerd College.
Health care reform has its flaws. But while Republicans are campaigning to kill it, many Floridians stand to reap its benefits. Voters should remember in November what they stand to gain — and what the GOP wants to take away.