Two Florida lawmakers --- one who supports the 2010 federal health-care law and one who opposes it --- testified in a congressional hearing about problems that states are confronting as a Oct. 1 deadline approaches for implementing a key part of the law known as Obamacare.
State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and state Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, took very different approaches in their testimony before a joint meeting of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements and the U.S. House Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs.
The two Floridians joined five other witnesses from Kansas, Louisiana and South Carolina, who also represented opposing views.
Sobel, vice-chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, said 25.3 percent of Florida residents are uninsured --- the second-highest percentage of any state. Despite this, she said, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature blocked Medicaid expansion and passed a law removing the authority of the state insurance commissioner to approve rates for new health insurance plans for the next two years.
She also noted that last week the Scott administration banned outreach counselors known as "navigators," who are supposed to help Floridians shop for coverage, from the grounds of county health departments.
"This is a desperate attempt to prevent access for those who need health insurance the most," Sobel said.
Hudson, who is vice-chairman of the House Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, said the health-care law's Medicaid expansion would lead to poor care and cost overruns. He also said it would exacerbate Florida’s health-workforce shortages, noting that 13 percent of the state’s 44,804 active physicians plan to retire within the next five years, whereas Medicaid expansion would drive up the demand for doctors and nurses.
Hudson also said the state Office of Insurance Regulation projects that Obamacare would drive premiums higher for small-group and individual policies by an average of between 5 and 40 percent.
"Medicaid expansion is wrong for patients and taxpayers," he said. "Medicaid is already a problem across the nation. Access is limited and outcomes are poor. The only randomized control trial of Medicaid ever conducted found no improvements in health when compared to the uninsured."
The hearing came as enrollment begins Oct. 1 in health-insurance exchanges, which will be online marketplaces where people can shop for coverage. It is a key part of the law's strategy to help uninsured people find --- and afford --- coverage.
During the hearing, congressional Republicans and Democrats tended to couch their questions as arguments for or against Obamacare, with Sobel fielding softballs.
"Do you think that Gov. Scott's decision to ban navigators from operating on the grounds of county health departments was a necessary or even a remotely proportionate response?" Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., asked her.
"I basically think it's a roadblock, a sandbag," Sobel replied. "I think that this is an effort to stop people from enrolling. …It hurts a lot of people who need the information."
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., asked the witnesses whether Obamacare reduced choices in their states; Hudson said yes. When she asked how their states viewed the health care law, Hudson said, "Floridians are absolutely opposed to it."
The testimony drew a mixed response back home.
Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, tweeted his thanks to Hudson for "bringing Florida's concerns over Obamacare to the U.S. Congress."
Monica Russo, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said in a statement, "What is really wrong is that Florida now ranks second in the nation in having the highest number of uninsured."