Republicans' appeal to Florida's Hispanic voters off to bumpy start

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Hispanic outreach, which includes a field director in Orlando, is just beginning.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Hispanic outreach, which includes a field director in Orlando, is just beginning.
Published May 8, 2012

Republicans called a meeting Tuesday to show off their Hispanic voter outreach, pledging an aggressive effort in Florida and other key states that will focus on the economy.

They showed off, instead, how much work the GOP and Mitt Romney have to do.

"To my understanding, he is still deciding what his position on immigration is," Republican National Committee Hispanic outreach director Bettina Inclan said in response to a question about presumptive nominee Romney. "I can't talk about what his proposal is going to be. … I can't talk about something that I don't know."

An alarmed RNC spokeswoman, reading tweets sent from the room, interrupted to say that the committee does not decide policy and a joint effort with Romney's campaign had just begun. "Let's all be fair and put this all in context," Kirsten Kukowski pleaded. Inclan later tweeted, "I misspoke, Romney's position on immigration is clear." Her tweet included a link to Romney's campaign website.

Democrats jumped in, casting Romney as a hardliner, including calling for illegal residents to "self deport" and saying he'd veto the Dream Act. But with the nomination in grasp, Romney's also showing signs of moderation, keenly aware of the role Hispanics will play in November. That Republicans can't articulate a message underscores the work to be done.

The Republican outreach effort (which includes a field director in Orlando) is also just beginning while the Obama campaign has been courting Hispanics for months.

Obama has been blanketing TV stations in South Florida, Orlando and Tampa with ads. The latest went up Tuesday in Orlando.

"We have six months," Inclan said when asked about the Democratic advantages.

Inclan said the No. 1 issue for Hispanics is the same as other voters: jobs and the economy. "To assume that the only thing we care about is immigration, is almost insulting," Inclan said.

Romney on fundraising swing

Romney is scheduled to be in Tampa on May 16 for an afternoon fundraising reception at Avila Golf and Country Club. The minimum donation is $2,500 per person, and a $10,000 check or a $25,000 bundle of checks gets you into the VIP photo reception. It's part of a two-day Florida swing, where we hear he'll also hit Miami, Jacksonville and Boca Raton.

Insurers owe almost $149M

Health insurance companies owe Florida policyholders tens of millions of dollars for failing to meet a provision of the Affordable Care Act that limits the amount of premium dollars that can be spent on overhead, according to new estimates.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently issued a report that said insurers will owe Floridians nearly $149 million in rebates this summer for failing to meet the medical loss ratio rule. The nationwide rebate total is $1.3 billion, according to Kaiser, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes health policy.

Under the MLR provision, insurers offering health coverage to individuals and small businesses must spend at least 80 percent of premiums on claims and direct services. The threshold for large group plans is 85 percent of premium dollars. Insurers who failed to meet those requirements in 2011 must issue rebates to consumers in August.

Companies are required to submit a report to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by June 1 showing what they spent on health care and activities that improve care during 2011. They must provide rebate notices and issue rebates by Aug. 1.

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, and Florida CHAIN, a statewide health advocacy group, issued a report Tuesday that provides new estimates for what individual companies may owe: Florida Blue, $44.9 million; UnitedHealthcare, $19.9 million; Golden Rule, $15.7 million; and Humana, $12.3 million.

Times staff writers Adam C. Smith and Tia Mitchell contributed to this report.