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At panel discussion in Tampa, ACA supporters bemoan what might happen if law is repealed

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A day after President Donald Trump admitted that health care in America is “an unbelievably complex subject,” a group of Tampa women held a roundtable discussion Tuesday to highlight the importance of the Affordable Care Act in providing women quality and affordable health care.

The event was held at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association in West Tampa, organized by the groups Organize Florida and Our Future.

“Before Obamacare, fifty percent of women would avoid going to get an annual wellness visit, because it would cost them money,” said Phuong D. Nguyen, a doctor working at BayCare Medical Group in St. Petersburg. “Now under Obamacare, the preventative visit is covered.”

“The uninsured rate in Florida would nearly double,” if the ACA is repealed said Jodi Ray, the director of Florida Covering Kids & Families at USF, the largest group of navigators assigned to help people sign up to the ACA in the nation. She said the number of uninsured would go up to 4.7 million Floridians, with more than 2 million people losing coverage by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

While Florida Governor Rick Scott refused to expand Medicaid back in 2014 that could have brought more than 700,000 Floridians into the Affordable Care Act, Ray told the audience that Florida children under the age of 18 who qualified are covered by Medicaid. She said that affects a lot of families whose kids now have coverage, coverage that will go away when Medicaid expansion is revealed nationwide.

“It’s thousands and thousands and thousands of families whose kids were moved into Medicaid,” she said.

Expressing the fear that some young women have had since the election, Tampa resident Faithe Estes says she has friends who have gone ahead and purchased five year IUD’s just before Trump was inaugurated, as they were uncertain about their access to care with the threats to the ACA being repealed.

When asked how the ACA could be improved, Ray said she didn’t like the fact that a pregnant woman cannot qualify for special enrollment. “You can’t call up and say,’ hey, I’m pregnant, I need coverage now,'” and instead have had to wait until the next regular enrollment period she said, which could be more than nine months away. “Prenatal care at the beginning should never be up for debate, as far as I’m concerned.”

Among the suggestions that congressional Republicans have said for years would be a better alternative to the ACA is a plan that would allow for health care companies to compete against state lines, with the idea being to provide more competition and ultimately drive down costs. It was something that Trump said in his address to Congress on Tuesday night.

But Ray shot that notion down, saying that if an insurer is based in say Alabama but wants to sell insurance in New Mexico, they may have a dilemma when they learn that New Mexico has very strong insurance regulations. So that company can get set up in Alabama, and sell to New Mexico under Alabama regulations.  “So you as a consumer don’t have the protection, so most insurers will set up in the states that have the least amount of regulations, and that puts all the consumers at risk.”

Estes said it was time to go forward, not backwards in terms of health care coverage in the U.S. She says she hopes the country ultimately goes to a single payer system.

As Republicans inch closer to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, public support for the law is reaching new highs. A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that 48 percent of voters now support the law, while 42 percent oppose. While that may not seem like gaudy numbers, it’s the highest level of favorability towards the ACA in more than 60 tracking polls that it has run since 2010: 48 percent of voters reported support for the law, while 42 percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable opinion.

And Nguyen indicated that doctors, who at one time were extremely ambivalent as a group about the ACA, now strongly support maintaining it.

Just 15 percent of primary care doctors surveyed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania want the healthcare law to be repealed. Even among doctors who voted for President Trump, less than half — 38 percent — want the law to be repealed.

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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