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Federal healthcare exchange could mean losing local voice
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Federal healthcare exchange could mean losing local voice

Federal healthcare exchange could mean losing local voice
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown
Florida Governor Rick Scott addresses a crowd gathered at Ponta Vedra High School on 10/12/12.

Federal healthcare exchange could mean losing local voice

With the President’s re-election comes the need for states to definitively decide whether they will create their own health care exchange or default to one set up by the federal government.

And while Florida Governor Rick Scott now says he is “open for discussion” with the federal government, a softer position than he has taken until now, he still shows no sign of setting up a state-run exchange- and has flat out refused to do so just late last week.  The most recent statement sent from Scott’s office- which declined to arrange an interview today- says that there are still too many unanswered questions, and that this program would not affect the fundamental problems with healthcare in the state.

So with all signs pointing to a default on Friday, Florida’s lawmakers are concerned about their power to set a system they think is right is slipping away.

“If we’re gunna set up exchanges, then I’d rather see the state do it than the federal government,” says Republican State Senator John Thrasher.

It’s a feeling that crosses the legislative aisle.

“If we don’t do that, then I think it’s a shirk of responsibility,” says Democratic State Senator Audrey Gibson.

Both agree that Florida lawmakers are better positioned to know what their constituents may need from a healthcare program than the federal government.  Thrasher says efficiency would be a priority in his system, while Gibson points to elder care as one of Florida’s greatest needs.

The Governor has continued to question the potential cost that this healthcare exchange could have for the state, but Gibson has the same concern about a general federal program.

“[The state would be] Much more comprehensive and probably more cost effective then to have more of an overlay, if you will, that might come from the federal government,” she says.

There is still a heavy divide when it comes to overall feelings on the Affordable Care Act.  While Gibson is confident that, at the core, this will benefit people nationally- Thrasher says he just now coming to accept that it is the law they will have to deal with.

For Thrasher, Scott and leaders from other states, the presidential elections was one last chance to not implement the new federal health care law, because Mitt Romney promised to do away with “Obamacare”.  When the President gained re-election, however, that last hope was gone.

“He was elected, and I think now we’ve gotta deal with it,” Thrasher says.

But he thinks there should be more time to ultimately make the decision.  Thrasher says because Florida and others waited until the election, there is not much time to really delve in to what the right choice would be.  Especially because the legislative session doesn’t begin until the spring, he says lawmakers really haven’t had the chance to collaborate and form an opinion.

Thrasher says he has seen some signs that the Obama administration may be willing to extend the deadline to decide past Friday, so these final days may not completely determine Florida’s future.

“If it looks like we could do it, given that the federal government’s gunna pay up to 90% of it initially, then we may want to take a look at it,” he says.

But Gibson wants to make sure that everyone has an equal voice in those discussions.  She expects healthcare will be a big topic in the upcoming session, and says the interest for her starts even before then, when committee heads start getting named.  She says she will be able to tell a lot about how the discussion will go based on who is leading it- and that  could either greatly help or halt their fact finding efforts.

“If we’re not open to discussion, we don’t really know do we,” she says.

Both Thrasher and Gibson agree that everyone needs to come to the table to start getting answers to questions like why the cost of healthcare in Florida is where it is, and what a new plan could mean for business and families.  But the biggest question that remains now is just how long they will have to get those answers.

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