Bipartisan biz coalition pushes for increased health access, steers clear of the M-word

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Legislative leaders quickly put the nix on talk of Medicaid expansion last week while in Tallahassee but members of a bipartisan, growing coalition aren’t listening.

The group — A Healthy Florida Works — wants to pump up the volume on the health-care access debate and says 2015 is the year to do it.

“I think it’s fair to say you’ll be hearing from from us soon,” said Jennifer Fennell, spokesperson for the group, whose membership includes 500 businesses across the state and 70,000 individuals who want Florida to tap into $50 billion in federal dollars over the next ten years.

Other statewide partners in the A Healthy Florida Works coalition include Associated Industries of Florida, Florida United Business Association, the Florida Hospital Association, and the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

While Fennell wouldn’t release any details on a Tallahassee event, she did note that the coalition is  hosting “Cover the Bay” with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on January 28. It will provide an opportunity for business leaders to meet with Bay area municipal leaders to discuss how extending health-care coverage to roughly 1 million eligible Floridians would impact the local community.

A Healthy Florida Works doesn’t focus its message on “Medicaid expansion”; instead, it talks in terms of health-care access and the use of available federal dollars to provide health-care coverage to working adults.

Expanding Medicaid was one way the federal law–commonly called Obamacare–provided coverage to uninsured Americans.

Florida did not expand Medicaid to cover individuals earning less than $16,105 annually or open up the jointly run state federal health-care program to families of four earning less than $32,913 annually, as laid out under the federal health-care law.

According to the website State Refor(u)m 23 states, including the District of Columbia, expanded Medicaid in 2014. Five states are expanding Medicaid but using an alternative approach to traditional expansion and one state’s Medicaid expansion is pending approval from CMS.

2015 is a significant year, Fennell said, because larger employers–those with 100 or more employees–need to start providing health benefits to at least 70 percent of their full-time equivalent employees and 95 percent of their full-time employees by 2016 or face financial penalties.  “That’s going to be huge,” Fennell said of the impact on Florida employers.

A Healthy Florida Works website features video testimonials on why the state should tap into tens of billions in federal Medicaid dollars.  “Lifelong” Republican Jamie Harden, president and chief executive officer of Creative Sign Designs, as well as a member of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, is featured in one of the videos.

“I’ve been a lifelong Republican and that’s always been my view, for government to get out of the way. But in this case we have to do something to deal with these costs. We have to do something to take care of the people that cannot afford the health insurance they need,” he said.

While the A Healthy Florida Works has the backing of Associated Industries of Florida and Florida United Business Association, not all the business groups are on board. National Federation of Independent Business-Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle said his group doesn’t support the Medicaid expansion. NFIB Florida was one of the plaintiffs in the multi-state lawsuit challenging the federal health law.

“We haven’t publicly stated our position since the last Medicaid fight, but it still stands. NFIB remains opposed to Medicaid expansion,” said Herrle, whose association represents 10,000 businesses of all sizes, though the average NFIB Florida member has somewhere between a dozen and 15 employees.