FORT LAUDERDALE – Florida had the nation’s second-highest rate of residents without health insurance, with almost one in four Floridians lacking coverage, according to new U.S. Census figures released Aug. 29.
Only Texas surpassed Florida’s rate of 24.8 percent of residents under age 65 without health insurance in 2011, the most recent year figures are available, the Census said.
Although that figure was down slightly from 2010, when 25.3 percent of Floridians were without health insurance, the rate of uninsured residents has inched up since 2008, when just over 24 percent of Floridians were without health insurance.
The half-decade spike in uninsured residents comes as the Republican-controlled Legislature ruled earlier this year not to expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 1.1 million low-income Floridians under the new federal health law.
In an unusual alliance, Gov. Rick Scott, Senate Republicans, Democrats, Florida hospitals, health advocates and a diverse mix of business and labor groups all supported a bill that would have drawn down more than $50 billion from the federal government over the next decade and allow Floridians to purchase private insurance. But leaders in the GOP-led Florida House refused to consider that proposal, saying they didn’t want to take funds tied to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
Democrats and health advocates have since held town halls around the state pushing Scott to call a special session to discuss Medicaid expansion but Scott has said he isn’t planning to call one since House leaders haven’t signaled a change of heart.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, warned in a statement Aug. 29 that Republicans will play a political price for failing to expand Medicaid.
“The Legislature’s failure to expand health coverage continues to punish working families and small businesses throughout Florida. Gov. Scott and other Republican leaders who say they want to improve Florida’s business competitiveness and image can make great headway by reducing this state’s abysmally high number of uninsured,” Thurston said.
Florida’s large number of small businesses, which currently aren’t required to provide health insurance, as well as its tourism-oriented economy with large numbers of workers in service jobs, have contributed to its historic high rate of the uninsured.
That will change under the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which requires business with 50 or more employees to offer coverage. But the Obama administration recently announced it will delay that provision for another year. The law also requires individuals to carry health coverage starting in 2014 or face a roughly $100 fine.
Individuals can still go online and shop for insurance on the new state exchange starting Oct 1. The new marketplaces will have the feel of an online travel site where residents can compare different private insurance plans.
Consumers will be able to choose from plans that offer a range of premiums, deductibles and co-pays depending on variables such as how many doctors that a person wants included in his or her network. Residents making less than $48,000 a year will receive a federal voucher to help offset premium costs.
Anyone making below the poverty line, $11,490 for an individual or $23,550 for a family of four, won’t be eligible for subsidies through the online marketplace. The law had assumed that many additional people would get coverage through an expanded Medicaid program but the U.S. Supreme Court left that decision up to each state.
“Florida continues to have one of the highest uninsured rates in the country, especially among those who would benefit most from the state expanding Medicaid. The data continues to pile up, the only question is whether legislators will do the right thing in the next session and accept the federal dollars or continue to play politics with the health and economic security of Floridians,” said Joan Alker, co-executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families in Washington, D.C.
Counties in south Florida with large numbers of farm workers and immigrants led the state in uninsured residents. At the top of the list were Hendry County (35 percent), Miami-Dade County (34.4 percent), and Glades County (32.9percent).
Three counties in northeast Florida had the lowest rate of uninsured residents: St. Johns County (15.4 percent), Clay County (17 percent), and Baker County (17.9 percent).
Associated Press writer Mike Schneider in Orlando contributed to this report.