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Floridians Encouraged to Vote as if Their Health Depends on It

The next Florida Legislature will have to make major decisions about health-care coverage. (Jenn Greiving/Wikimedia Commons)
The next Florida Legislature will have to make major decisions about health-care coverage. (Jenn Greiving/Wikimedia Commons)
October 19, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Many people are calling the November election the most important in modern history, and health-care advocates in Florida say that isn't just because of the contentious race at the top of the ticket.

One of the biggest issues the next Florida Legislature will face is the shrinking safety net for the state's most vulnerable residents. Scott Darius, advocacy director for Florida CHAIN (Community Health Action Information Network), said the state's refusal to expand Medicaid means there are still major disparities in health coverage across the state, two years into implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

"While that narrowed the gap somewhat," he said, "we still see that Hispanic residents of central Florida are still 50 percent more likely to be uninsured than their non-Hispanic neighbors."

An estimated 800,000 Floridians fall into what's known as the "coverage gap": They can't afford marketplace insurance but don't qualify for traditional Medicaid. Polls have shown that the majority of Floridians support expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, but last year's Legislature rejected the federal funding to do so.

Florida currently ranks 37th among the 50 states for the per-capita rate of state funding that goes to public health, and has dropped several spots in recent years. Darius said there are consequences for not investing in the state's health.

"Floridians are experiencing high rates of health conditions that could actually be eased by public-health intervention," he said, "things like infectious disease and heart disease and diabetes."

The Tampa Bay Health Care Collective has assembled an online guide at livesonthelinefl.org/voterguide to show where state candidates stand on Medicaid expansion and other health-related issues, and the League of Women Voters has information about early voting and absentee ballots on its website, thefloridavoter.org.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL