It's one thing for Florida to lead the legal assault against the federal health care law and for Attorney General Pam Bondi to sit in the front row for the oral arguments before a panel of federal appellate judges in Atlanta. It's another for Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to refuse to spend at least $19 million in federal money tied to the new law. They are harming millions of Floridians without affordable or available health coverage to score political points.
Ultimately, the fate of the Affordable Care Act will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Challenges to the law have now had hearings before three federal appellate courts, including last week's hearing before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The issues include whether the federal government can force individuals to buy health insurance starting in 2014, and whether the rest of the law can stand if that requirement is found unconstitutional. Until the Supreme Court rules, the law is in place and its other provisions should be carried out.
That is what is happening in most states, including states such as Texas and Indiana that are challenging the law. But in Florida, as Janet Zink of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported last week, Scott and the Legislature refuse to plan or spend federal money. While Wisconsin and Indiana are planning for health care exchanges required by the law, Scott refuses. The Legislature also rejected more than $17 million in federal grants related to the law for hospice for children, community health centers and health services for the elderly. Floridians are being denied better access to health care to enforce rigid ideology.
As Florida fiddles, the crisis continues and the rest of the nation moves forward. A recent report by the industry consulting firm Milliman shows the employee share of employment-based health coverage costs are more than double compared to a decade ago, from $3,634 in 2002 to $8,008 this year. The costs cause Floridians and other Americans to drop insurance or put off care due to higher deductibles.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has embarked on a range of efforts to improve access to health care until the law's highest-profile provisions take effect in 2014. Coming July 1 is a 40 percent reduction in premiums for high-risk insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Floridians who tried to obtain private coverage but were denied due to a previous medical condition will be able to get insurance for as little as $118 to $158 a month for children, and $376 to $505 for adults over age 55.
Starting in September, health insurance companies that raise premiums 10 percent or more in a year will be more intensely scrutinized by the government. Meanwhile, Medicare will start rewarding hospitals that provide high-quality care efficiently and penalizing hospitals that don't by tracking what is spent on millions of individual beneficiaries.
Health care reform is moving forward even as the legal challenges grind along, but Florida's intransigent elected leaders are sticking their heads in the sand.