Column: Close the health coverage gap

Published Nov. 19, 2015

We have a gap here in Florida: a gap between those who can afford health insurance and those who cannot. It's time that we accept federal funds and expand Medicaid. As a physician, I am asking Florida representatives to put patients over politics and do what is right for the state. On behalf of my own patients and the nearly 1 million who fall into the health care coverage gap, I am asking the Legislature to end the needless suffering so many hard-working citizens face on a daily basis.

Not long ago, while Florida legislators refused to make any progress on the issue, Montana became the 30th state to expand Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act is providing real and powerful change in people's lives, and if our state would only expand Medicaid we could save lives and save the state money.

Fortunately for Floridians who cannot afford care, relief groups such as Remote Area Medical are getting involved to help. Coming up at the Manatee Technical College on Saturday and Sunday in Bradenton, Remote Area Medical will be providing free medical, dental and vision care to close to 1,000 patients. This is charity care that will save lives.

For many who will line up in the wee hours of the morning, this may be the first opportunity in years that they have had to see a medical provider. RAM and local physicians recognize that the need for health care in Florida is great. That is why members of Doctors for America and I will be joining the upcoming clinic to care for patients.

But Floridians should not have to rely on charity to get access to the care they need. It's time for the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to stop turning a blind eye to the Floridians in the coverage gap who need care, and who would have it if leaders in our state stopped turning away our tax dollars to make a political point.

I invite every member of the Legislature who opposed coverage expansion and the governor himself to attend our upcoming clinic to see, with their own eyes, the incredible suffering of those whom they refuse to help. These are your constituents who live in fear, every day, that they or their loved ones may fall ill. These are our friends, neighbors and family members, the people who work low-wage jobs that keep Florida's economy strong.

Leaders have the opportunity to fix the health care injustices that exist in Florida by expanding Medicaid. How many Floridians must die simply because they lack access to care before the Legislature has the strength to expand access to care? Now is the time to put patients above politics and do the right thing.

Mona Mangat is an allergist/immunologist based in St. Petersburg and the chair of Doctors for America. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.