Florida Voices for Health is a health advocacy organization dedicated to increasing access to care for all Floridians but especially those who are middle and low-income. Over the last year, we’ve partnered with the UF Equal Access Clinic to capture the health care experiences of patients and better understand the communities we are working to reach.
Over that time, we’ve connected with over 50 individuals from Alachua County and the surrounding areas. Despite being unique individuals from many different backgrounds, the common theme from their stories is that health care — in any other setting — is unaffordable.
This probably isn’t very surprising. Still, it was important to see how this plays out in the lives of our family, friends and neighbors.
For people like Shay P., it has meant being uninsured since she was 18 and managing the best she can. Before finding the Equal Access Clinic, she relied on the emergency room. She shared that she was once charged $320 for an I.V., including $10 for each gauze that was used.
Neill E. shared that he has been uninsured for about 20 years because of the high cost of health insurance. Like so many, Neill applied for insurance through the Marketplace in the past but was unable to enroll because he earned too little for premium tax credits.
Lisa M., also from Gainesville, can relate. She works at a factory but struggles to pay rent and is unable to afford health insurance. Lisa suffers from cancer, a heart condition and asthma. Without health insurance, she has had to go without other necessities in order to pay for medications.
Lisa believes that being uninsured prevented her from catching her cancer diagnosis early. For over six months she has been going to the Equal Access Clinic, which provides her with primary care but does not have the specialists she needs to see.
This year, the Florida Legislature budgeted nearly $49 billion in taxpayer funding for health care-related spending. Unfortunately, the funded priorities are likely to have a minimal impact of making health care more affordable and accessible for Floridians.
A recent survey from Perry Undem and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation revealed why this will be disappointing for Floridians. The survey found that a significant number of Floridians are still dealing with affordability as a barrier to care.
Among other notable conclusions, the survey of 764 Floridians 18 and older found that: 1) More than four in 10 Floridians are delaying or skipping health care services and facing financial hardship because of health care costs; 2) Half of Floridians (51%) aren’t very confident they can pay for usual health care services.
Importantly, younger adults, women, Black adults and adults with low incomes are among the most worried about paying for care.
At a policy level, there is still a lot to be done to make health care accessible, especially for low-income Floridians. State legislators continue to reject the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion provision, which would cover nearly 800,000 people while saving the state $200 million a year.
Interestingly, the survey also asked Floridians about solutions and found that: 1) Six in 10 Floridians (61%) want big, fundamental changes to the health system; 2) Floridians overwhelmingly support (81%) state leaders in Florida making health insurance more affordable.
When asked about specific health care reform, majorities of Floridians support several policies. Most support limiting what hospitals can charge for services (84%), expanding Medicaid so more people can qualify (78%), eliminating or capping health insurance deductibles (82%), lowering insurance premiums via tax credits (77%), creating a public health coverage option (74%), and moving to a Medicare-for-all system (62%).
We have a long way to go as a state to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to live full and healthy lives. It starts with our leaders better understanding the practical challenges that Floridians face. Right now, there are few challenges greater than access to affordable and quality health care.
Scott Darius is executive director of Florida Voices for Health. He lives in Gainesville.
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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Scott Darius: Health care costs unaddressed by Florida legislators