As Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida Republicans scramble in D.C. today to try to understand the impact of the proposed Senate healthcare bill on the state, three Democratic candidates for governor offered their own feedback Tuesday.
Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham delivered a three-foot stack of petitions to the Tallahassee office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, signed by 4,000 people, urging him to reject the proposal because it will hurt more Floridians than it will help.
"This bill is heartless,'' Graham said, urging Rubio to transcend the partisanship surrounding the issue and reject it for Florida. "He doesn't represent the Republican Party. he doesn't represent Donald J. Trump. He represents the people of Florida and that's why he should vote against this bill."
She was joined by Dr. Louis St. Petery, a Tallahassee pediatrician, who feared that the Medicaid cuts and restructuring in the Senate bill will leave thousands of children in the state without care.
"Don't forget, 52 percent of live births in Florida are paid for by Medicaid,'' he said. "We are not talking about an insignificant number of kids. Over one-third of Florida's children are on Medicaid and pulling the rug out from under that many kids and that many families will be devastating to not only the child but the rest of us in society who have to pay for their health care costs."
Graham said she was "very concerned" about the block grants proposed in the Senate health care bill because they are "not good for Florida" because she has no confidence that Republicans in Washington or Tallahassee will use them "in the best interests of the people of Florida."
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum suggested the answer is a statewide constitutional amendment declaring healthcare a right.
"It's time for Florida to finally enshrine healthcare as a right for all,'' he said a statement. "There is a public trust for the government to care for its citizens, and our state can no longer be ambiguous about that moral obligation. When healthcare is under attack in Washington, we're going to lean into the challenge of healthcare in the Sunshine State and live our values."
Gillum's communications director Geoff Burgan said that if elected, Gillum will "push the Legislature to put this on the ballot in 2019, and if they fail to do so he'll campaign for it as well."
"There's an added onus on the Legislature to make sure that health care is actually affordable and accessible,'' he said. "This is a long conversation about health care and it's being brought to the forefront."
He said that Gillum supports the idea because "Floridians have a right to make their voices heard, and he's committed to raising the funds necessary to do that,'' Burgan said. "We'll also be submitting it to the [Constitution Revision Commission.]"
Graham dismissed the constitutional amendment as a practical way to effect change. "I think healthcare is a right but I want to make sure the way we go about it as doable."
Democrat candidate Chris King called the Senate healthcare proposal unacceptable and Tuesday condemned the Medicaid cuts and the treatment of older Floridians. If the Senate plan becomes law, he has pledged not to seek waivers allow health insurers to discriminate against people with existing conditions or to exclude coverage of contraceptive care, said King spokesman Hari Sevugan.
Graham blasted Gov. Rick Scott for failing to take Medicaid expansion while he is now complaining that the state is not getting enough Medicaid money. She said that has resulted in the Affordable Care Act not working as well as it was intended. Graham supported changes to the Affordable Care Act as a member of Congress and said Congress should continue to pursue fixes, not repeal.
"Congress has not done its job,'' she said. "Why? It's the politics. I will never let politics get in the way of doing what's right for the people of Florida."
NOTE: This post has been updated.