SEIU targets Republican lawmakers with constituents in coverage gap

Published April 11, 2014

The state healthcare workers' union has a new strategy in its fight to expand Medicaid coverage: reaching out to voters "who've been screwed out of healthcare coverage by their representative's refusal to act."

SEIU Florida will be knocking on doors this weekend in four state House districts.

The targeted lawmakers include Republican Reps. Manny Diaz, Jr., of Hialeah; Erik Fresen, of Miami; Kathleen Peters, of St. Petersburg; and Bill Hager, of Delray Beach. Each lawmaker represents more than 4,600 residents who are missing out on coverage, according a union analysis.

"It's time to bring this issue right down into each neighborhood, so people understand exactly what they and their friends, family and neighbors are losing because their elected representative has chosen politics over people," said Martha Baker, vice president of SEIU Florida and a nurse at Jackson Health System in Miami.

The GOP lawmakers say their position on Medicaid expansion is not driven by politics. Diaz, for one, said he opposes the policy because he does not believe it will improve most Floridians' access to quality healthcare.

"It's unfortunate that a labor union that is concerned about making money attacks elected officials that stand on principle for their constituents," he said Friday.

Medicaid expansion has been among the most controversial topics in the legislature.

Last year, the state Senate unanimously approved a bill that would have allowed the use of federal Medicaid expansion dollars to buy private insurance policies for poor Floridians. The House, meanwhile, voted to reject $51 billion in federal Medicaid funding.

A Medicaid expansion bill similar to last year's Senate proposal has stalled this year.

Hoping to apply pressure on lawmakers, SEIU Florida used Census and commercial figures to calculate the number of Floridians in the "coverage gap" in each state House district. The coverage gap includes people in Florida who don't qualify for Medicaid, but make too little to qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance on the federal exchange. The federal health care law anticipated that Medicaid expansion would fill this gap. States that declined the funds like Florida, however, still have a hole.

The three lawmakers with the largest number of constituents in the coverage gap are all from South Florida: Democratic Rep. Cynthia Stafford (11,496); Democratic Rep. Daphne Campbell (11,412) and Republican Rep. Manny Diaz (11,334).

Diaz is among the four lawmakers in the SEIU's sights.

The other three are Republicans who SEIU deems vulnerable in the 2014 election.

Peters said she felt she was being unfairly targeted.

"This is just one group pushing their agenda through a negative campaign," she said, mentioning the work she has done to increase services for the homeless. "Any kind of statement that I'm not a caring person is just not true."

Fresen declined to comment.

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Last year, SEIU produced TV ads targeted at half-dozen GOP lawmakers in Democratic-leaning districts.