Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Activist group holds Medicaid gap ‘public execution’ in Florida Capitol courtyard

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At 10 a.m, and again at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, a group of activists performed a skit along the Florida Capitol courtyard — acting out a scene where eight condemned people line up next to an executioner.

Their crime?

Condemned to die for not having health insurance.

The players were from Catalyist, a Miami-based community organization that brought its members to Tallahassee this week. They’re lobbying lawmakers to pass a Medicaid expansion plan favored by a majority of the Senate, but strongly opposed by the House. Gov. Rick Scott has also joined the opposition, announcing this week that because the federal government is ending funding for  state’s Low Income Pool (LIP) program, he doesn’t trust the federal government to fund an expanded Medicaid plan.

Marissa Toosicktowork suffers from a rare disease that is not recognized by the medical industry, so she doesn’t qualify for disability,” a Catalyst member acting as a “public official” announced.

“She is unable to work, but, at 29 years of age, she is too old to be covered by her parents’ insurance. Unable to work, broke and uncovered, Marissa is hereby sentenced to die. Does the condemned have any final words?” she said.

As the “executioner” hands the microphone to Marissa, she says, “I am not alone! More than a third of Floridians ages 18 to 34 live in poverty. Accept the federal funds!”

Then the executioner tapped Marissa on the head. She slumped over and pretended to die.

“The play was to create awareness, and to tell people the numbers have faces behind them, ” said Camilo Meija, networks director with Catalyst. Members of the group broke into three teams Wednesday to meet with state lawmakers in both houses of the Legislature, he said.

“We’re hoping that there’s going to be enough pressure on the House to come to agreement with the Senate and expand Medicaid somehow,” Meija said.

There’s $4 billion gap between the House and Senate budgets over the $2 billion  LIP funding, and another nearly $2 billion difference regarding funding for the Florida Forever land acquisition program.

“We know that a lot of people in the House support expansion, but the leadership in the House unfortunately has told them not to talk about accepting federal funds for Medicaid expansion,” Mejia said, adding he hopes to see “some real leadership in the House.”

Miami resident Laurie Scop said she resents the rhetoric she hears from lawmakers who say that Medicaid expansion is for freeloaders.

“I have not heard of a lot of explanation here why they oppose it, but in general, the things I hear are, ‘You are people who don’t want to work.'” Telling how she recovered from a nearly fatal disease that left her bedridden in her 20s (she did not identify the ailment), Scop said, “I am not that person” being characterized negatively.

“I work very, very hard, and I recovered from this disease to get my life back,” Scop said, describing the insinuation that those who need medical care are deadbeats as offensive. “I have a near-genius IQ, I am a board member of two nonprofits, and I beat a disease that was so-called ‘incurable,’ so I think it’s something to think about when you start creating generalizations about who people are, what they’ve been through, what they will or will not do to save the life they fought for.”

Cutler Bay Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard and Miami-area U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson took photos with members of Catalyst when they noticed the group performing in the Capitol courtyard.

“Health care is a human right! Close the gap, expand Medicaid … together we can!” the group chanted at the end of the skit.

However,  with a little more than three weeks left in the regular session, the chances of the Legislature getting together on a Medicaid expansion plan look  dubious. Florida is among the 22 states that haven’t joined the Medicaid expansion.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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