By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The U.S. Census Bureau released a report last week on the level of health insurance coverage in 2010. And things aren’t looking sunny for the Sunshine State.
The report, titled “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010,” reveals that more than one in five Floridians — 20.8 percent — don’t have health insurance. That’s the third worst rate in the United States, behind Texas and New Mexico. Almost a quarter (24.6 percent) of Texans and 21.6 percent of New Mexicans do not have health coverage. The national average is 16.3.
And to add a little more sourness to this bitter bit of news, it turns out the trend has been worsening for four years in Florida. In 2007-2008, the rate was 19.6. It reached as high as 21.3 in 2009-2010. That’s because Florida has had among the nation’s worst unemployment rates, and most people access health coverage through their jobs.
“Half of the people we see have lost their jobs and their insurance,” Ronda Russick, the health center director at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, told The Tampa Tribune.
Nearly a quarter of all working adults in Florida don’t have insurance. That includes those who still have jobs. About 30 percent of full-time workers in the state and 60 percent of part-timers did not have employer-paid insurance.
Depending on your political perspective, that either explains, or raises questions about, the decision by then-Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of health care reform legislation passed last year by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Gov. Rick Scott and Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi have subsequently re-affirmed their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, dubbed ObamaCare by its critics. In fact, Scott’s opposition has been so vehement that he and Republican lawmakers have turned down millions in federal dollars linked to the law.
The Affordable Care Act focuses on making sure every American has access to insurance. But the flip side is that it also requires every American to carry some form of health insurance, or face a fine — much as drivers are required to carry auto insurance. That mandate is one of the main issues of contention in three separate lawsuits which are now at the appellate level, including the one filed by Florida.
If you are in Scott’s corner, you see the number of uninsured in Florida and think, “Forcing a quarter of all working Floridians to suddenly start buying some form of health insurance would be an economic back-breaker for the state.”
And if you are in Obama’s corner, you see those same numbers and likely think, “A quarter of working Floridians are either relying on overwhelmed hospitals and public health services, or doing completely without health coverage — this is precisely why the Affordable Care Act is needed.”
Ultimately, the lawsuits are expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.