1. Florida Politics

Tampa Bay residents say Obamacare repeal would threaten lives and livelihoods

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson talks to local residents about the Affordable Care Act that could be repealed by  the Republican-controlled Senate and House. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson talks to local residents about the Affordable Care Act that could be repealed by the Republican-controlled Senate and House. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Published Jul. 4, 2017

TAMPA — A St. Petersburg woman who couldn't get insurance while a sinus tumor and associated infections ruined her health for three years.

A Sarasota woman born without arms who could lose health care and prescription coverage for autoimmune disorders that developed after she was seriously hurt in a car crash.

A Sun City Center business owner whose breast cancer treatments were paid for by Obamacare.

A South Tampa family whose disabled son can be cared for at home thanks to Medicaid, instead of in a hospital, despite living with a tracheotomy.

Each said Monday that their lives could be torn apart by Republican proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act and reduce projected Medicaid spending by $800 billion over a decade.

"The ACA saved my life," Gina Hebert said during a roundtable health care discussion organized by Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Hebert, 60, had pre-existing conditions including severe arthritis and kidney stones when she received coverage through the ACA health care exchanges and started her own business as a construction estimator.

"When the ACA came up, I grabbed hold of that insurance policy first thing," said Hebert, who said she does not receive any government support to pay the premiums.

Having the insurance became especially critical, she said, when she was later diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She had two surgeries, months of chemotherapy, months of radiation and has been cancer-free for two years.

"The ACA saved my life," Hebert said. "If the cancer comes back and I don't have insurance" she would have to face going bankrupt and closing her business, "which means I'm not paying taxes, which means I'm not contributing to society."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts passage of the U.S. Senate's proposed health care bill would leave 22 million additional Americans without health insurance.

"If they repeal it, there is no insurance company that's going to insure me," said Olivia Babis, 40, who does not have arms and works as a peer mentor for other people with disabilities at a center for independent living. "I have two autoimmune disorders. My prescriptions are $200 a month. Without insurance, there's no way I can afford that."

Coverage losses are projected to especially affect people ages 50 to 64, before they qualify for Medicare, who earn less than about $30,300 for a single person.

Meanwhile, the budget office said, the Senate bill would eliminate two taxes aimed at wealthy Americans and levies on the medical-related industry, giving those groups savings of more than $540 billion.

It also would allow states to ease Obamacare requirements that insurers have to pay for certain specified services, including substance abuse treatments.

Nelson, who served as Florida's elected insurance commissioner, said he has seen health insurance companies deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions like asthma, but also something as simple as a rash.

He also said he's seen companies dedicate 60 percent of the revenue from premiums to health care, while spending 40 percent on administration and overhead. Under the Affordable Care Act, Nelson said, administrative costs are capped at 20 percent.

Still, he said, "The ACA is not perfect, and there are a bunch of things we ought to fix."

For example, he said, Affordable Care Act premiums could be reduced 13 percent in Florida if Congress changed the law to require insurance companies to buy re-insurance to cover the costs of catastrophic cases that cost millions of dollars.

Congress also could lower the price of some prescription drugs by continuing to use discounted Medicaid prices once patients with Medicaid turn 65 and go on Medicare, which pays more for the same drugs.

"There are fixes that we could do," Nelson said, "if we could ever get together."

Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times


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