Undaunted, the state of Florida went on a tear. It turned down federal funding to help set up those marketplace/exchange websites, where the uninsured will find, evaluate and ultimately sign up for health insurance policies. As time passed, state leaders decided not to bother with the websites, threw up their hands and punted the task over to the federal government.
"The state didn't have a choice," state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D.Hollywood, said this week at a Sun Sentinel forum on the Affordable Care Act. "Florida didn't know how to set up its own exchanges. That's the real story."
There's more. The state declined Washington's offer of $51 billion over ten years to expand Medicaid and allow more of the state's 3.8 million uninsured a chance to obtain health insurance. The move prompted acrimony, but failed to produce any new money.
Gov. Rick Scott didn't help matters. He initially said he wanted Washington's money and supported Medicaid expansion to get it. Those comments, however, didn't go over well with the governor's tea party backers, and Scott hasn't said or done anything else since.
To its credit, the Florida Senate came up with an alternative, a public-private partnership that would use federal funds to expand coverage. The Florida House rejected the Senate plan. So, all that tax money our state sends to Washington for Obamacare will go elsewhere.
The fact that Obamacare still exists, and is scheduled to rollout websites to provide health coverage next month is simply painful for those who want to wipe the program off the face of the Earth. Some states are seeing benefits, but Republicans who control state government continue to throw everything at the Affordable Care Act.
How else to explain the new law that prohibits Florida's top insurance regulator from making sure Floridians aren't paying too much for health-care coverage? The restrictions are good for two years, about the time it'll take to get Obamacare up and running. Talk about coincidence.
Florida's latest tack in opposing Obamacare is to go after the men and women who volunteered to be "navigators" to help Floridians understand the law's benefits and navigate them through that "marketplace" website that was so difficult for state officials to set up.
Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and others worry about the risks of the volunteers handling personal medical information. Federal officials say the navigators aren't seeking such information. But, why let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory?
The state Department of Health dutifully followed up, ordering its county health units not to allow navigators onto their premises. Someone had the gall to ask the state for permission to talk to people at their facilities, because that's where uninsured people often seek treatment.
The Affordable Care Act has enough problems. Officials already delayed key provisions, like the employer mandate and caps on out-of-pocket insurance costs. Florida Blue, the state's largest health insurer, is so concerned about start-up problems next month that are conducting their own campaign to inform Floridians about the program's benefits.
"We're as ready as we can be," Pat Geraghty, CEO of Florida Blue told that same forum about his health insurance firm's preparations for October 1. Then came the proverbial 'but.'
"The size of this undertaking is staggering," he continued. "Government has worked hard but this is significant. Roughly 32 states, [agencies like ] the IRS, Homeland Security and many others — they all need to be connected seamlessly. It will be bumpy."
Florida's war on the Affordable Care Act amounts to a tremendous waste of time and money, particularly in a state with the nation's second highest number of uninsured residents behind Texas. Our state isn't simply dragging its feet. It's sabotaging health reform outright.
Undermining an unpopular president in Washington may be the rationale for going after Obamacare, but the real harm is taking place closer to home. Uninsured Floridians are the real collaterial damage in a conflict that shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.