Florida is denying its residents quality healthcare

I think about my daughter.

When called on to make decisions as a member of Congress, I often think of my daughter, and how I want her to be safe and healthy, and feel empowered to pursue her dreams. Fathers know – when we work to make the world a better place, to make it more just and fair – we’re fighting for the future dreams of our children.

I don’t understand, then, how governors and state legislators across the country, including Florida’s own Governor Scott (R), have not taken the opportunity to push on behalf of their citizens for a commonsense expansion of healthcare services. I can’t imagine that progress for our nation means Governor Scott turning down $51 billion in federal money to expand healthcare for more than half a million hard working men and women.

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The truth of it is that the Affordable Care Act was passed before I was elected into office. But its increased medical coverage is a step forward for working Floridians, small businesses, and our parents and grandparents who need affordable coverage. Many in Washington have been stuck on an irrelevant and ridiculous debate surrounding the law. Is it perfect? No, and it would be foolish to think that any law is perfect right out of the gate. But as we work to fix the law – I for instance voted for 5 bills that will improve this legislation including to delay the employer and individual mandates, as well as allow those to keep their health insurance if they risked losing coverage- in the end, we can help millions of Americans get the affordable coverage they need so they can lead healthier and longer lives.

Here is what we know - in Florida more than 760,000 citizens fall within the so called “coverage gap" – a category identifying uninsured residents who make too much to get Medicare or Medicaid, but make too little money to receive healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. We have almost 800,000 Floridians that need health coverage. Yet the state legislature has refused to take $51 billion of taxpayer dollars to support healthy families. Creating and supporting healthy families is nothing new in Florida – Kidcare for instance does just that for those under 18. This is money that belongs to you, your family, friends and community. Anyone who wants to see Florida and our nation thrive should not be using their political position to deny hardworking Americans key benefits of the law or deny them the information needed to make informed choices. It is time for the state legislature to take action.

Governor Scott has publically supported healthcare expansion for those that fall into this gap. Yet we are still waiting for both the Governor and the state legislature to push for Florida to accept the $51 billion for health services offered by the federal government. Because of their inaction our taxpayer money is currently being spent on those in other states who have accepted these funds, rather than being spent on those greatly in need in our own state of Florida.

Florida State Senator Rene Garcia has recently re-introduced a healthcare expansion bill in the Florida state Senate.  It is important that this bill gets traction so that all Florida state officials understand the positive implications of health care expansion.  I want to see more Floridians saved from the devastating crush of medical debt after a sudden accident or the (God forbid) life-threatening medical event that hands them more than their fair share of grief. I want mothers and fathers to know they can both afford to see a doctor to prevent a more serious illness and pay their mortgage this month. 

When I hear stories from my district about a hardworking young man who cannot afford adequate coverage despite having a full time job because our state hasn’t expanded coverage or about a South Florida hospital whose emergency room serves as a frontline health care provider for thousands of the uninsured, it shows that our neighbors, friends and community need the legislature to once and for all fix this issue. Governor Rick Scott has publically stated that he supports health care expansion. Why is it then that both he and the Republican leadership in the state legislature have still opted out of running our state health care marketplace and have turned down health coverage for hundreds of thousands of those living in need in Florida?

I want every father of every child to know he or she will grow up with access to quality, affordable health care.  I want my own daughter to know that she will not be charged more than her male counterpart for that care.  That if and when she chooses to start a family, maternity care will be covered through her insurance.  That she will have access to the kind of regular preventive care – screenings for cancer and mammograms – that are smart and practical and save lives. If she leaves the workforce at some point, or starts a business for herself, she will have more options for lower-cost healthcare than any wave of women entrepreneurs before her.

Access to quality, affordable health care should not be a privilege reserved for only some of us. The state legislature should do the right thing and accept over $51 billion in federal tax dollars to expand healthcare.

Garcia has represented Florida's 26th Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Judiciary and the Natural Resources committees.

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