In the wake of U.S. House Republicans voting last week to repeal Obamacare, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum says state lawmakers need to step up and enact protections that will safeguard Floridians' right to health care coverage.
"There's not a lot we can do about Washington, D.C.," said Gillum, who is the mayor of Tallahassee. "But in the mean time, what we ought to be doing is making sure we're providing every single protection possible in the state of Florida."
At a press conference in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Gillum said if he were elected Florida governor in 2018, he'd work with the Republican-led Legislature to pass a new state law that would prohibit health insurance companies from doing three things: Denying coverage based on individuals' pre-existing conditions, charging higher premiums for those conditions and charging higher premiums for women than men.
"We've got to make sure that in the state of Florida we stand up and say we're going to stop insurers from denying coverage from any individual with pre-existing conditions," Gillum said.
Florida House Republicans would likely be unwilling to consider such a law. This spring, they fast-tracked a message urging Congress to repeal Obamacare and the taxes it imposed. The memorial -- which has no substantive effect of law -- passed along a party-line vote in April, with Democrats against, after a half-hour of debate. (The Senate never acted on it.)
Gillum said several New England states and others, like Washington and Oregon, had already enacted such state laws to secure patient protections afforded under Obamacare, in case Congress successfully repealed it.
He said a law still on the books in Florida allows insurers to deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions, but that law is null so long as Obamacare is the law of the land. He said the state law he seeks wouldn't be a new burden on insurance companies that offer health care coverage to Floridians, because, he said, "right now they're making money" even under Obamacare.
Families are "looking for some degree of predictability," Gillum said. "They want to know what they can expect, and if we snatch the rug from underneath individuals by making folks with pre-existing conditions uncoverable -- we already have some five insurers in this state, they have survived [the Affordable Care Act], they've survived under protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions."
"While there may be imperfections" in Obamacare, Gillum acknowledged, "these families know there is some predictability to it. They know their families will not have to suffer additional crises by having to deal with whether their families, their siblings, their children have coverage."
Gillum is running in a Democratic primary for governor that so far includes former Tallahassee U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Orlando businessman Chris King. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has all-but formally announced a bid, and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan is testing the waters, too.
Among Republicans, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is officially in. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, of Land O'Lakes, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, of Clearwater, are considering running, too -- and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach, is being encouraged to run.
Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau