Health care workers rally to expand Medicaid coverageby John Kennedy | March 7th, 2013
About 400 health care workers crowded the Florida Capitol on Thursday, singing, chanting — with even a few in costume — to urge legislative leaders to endorse the Medicaid expansion allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Margie Forrest, a 35-year nurse who works at Palms West Hospital in Loxahatchee, was among those who addressed the gathering, pointing out that many of the certified nurse assistants, aides and food service workers who came to the Capitol are uninsured themselves.
The group’s rally pivoted around a Wizard of Oz theme, with three attendees dressed as the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. Forrest used that imagery in calling on House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, to drop his opposition to expansion.
“Speaker Weatherford, find your brain. Pass the legislation needed,” Forrest said.
The rally was organized by the Service Employees International Union, a potent contributor to Democrats both in Florida and on the national level. On Medicaid expansion, however, SEIU’s biggest ally in Florida at the moment is Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has endorsed the initiative as a ”common sense” thing to do.
If lawmakers endorse expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the poverty level, another 1 million Floridians are expected to become eligible for health coverage. Many would be lower-income workers in service and tourism industry jobs, said Monica Russo, president of SEIU Healthcare Florida.
Under the expansion, individuals earning roughly $15,000 would qualify for Medicaid coverage. A family of three earning $26,300 would be eligible.
“These are workers…who provide care but cannot afford insurance on their own,” Russo said.
None of Florida’s Republican leaders came out to meet with workers at Thursday’s rally.
But earlier in the day, Scott told reporters that he wasn’t worried about the House’s stance. He also didn’t indicate that he planned to press hard for passage of the legislation, maintaining that a $2,500 teacher pay raise and a tax break for manufacturers amounted to his only session priorities.
“I let everybody know my position with regard to Medicaid expansion. My position I think it is the right position for
Florida families,” Scott said. “Now the legislative process is just starting. Hopefully they’ll do the right thing.”