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President Says He Can't Force Florida To Expand Medicaid

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
WUSF News Director Mary Shedden spoke with President Barack Obama about health care Thursday in the Oval Office.

  With the third year of open enrollment under way on Healthcare.gov, President Barack Obama is focusing his efforts on people eligible to buy policies on the insurance marketplace.

Political battles over expanding Medicaid in states including Florida are important, but not as easy to win, he told WUSF in an Oval Office interview Thursday.

Republican Governors and legislatures are ideologically opposed to Obamacare, he said. And, the language within the Affordable Care Act leaves it up to states whether or not to expand Medicaid to individuals living below the poverty level.

“We can’t force them to do it. And it means a lot of people are falling through the cracks and we can’t change the design of the law to reach those folks,” he said.

“What we have to do is, hopefully the people of Florida begin to recognize over the next year, two years, three years is that it makes no sense for the states essentially to refuse help from the federal government.”

About 600,000 of the 2.8 million uninsured Floridians fall into this coverage gap, according to a recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The health law offers financial help on monthly premiums, to people earning between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

Obama invited reporters from five U.S. cities on Thursday to discuss health insurance enrollment, the centerpiece of the controversial health law passed in 2010. In the first two years of open enrollment, more than 17 million Americans got coverage. As of June 30, about 1.3 million in Florida had purchased plans on HealthCare.gov. 

Enrollment for the 2016 season ends Jan. 31.

It’s not exactly clear why Tampa was selected for the challenge. However, Florida is the third most populous state in the nation, and includes 2.8 million uninsured residents, according to estimates from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The state has been among the most successful in enrolling people on the federal HealthCare.gov marketplace – the enrollment exchange for several dozen states.

Despite that success, Tampa and Florida – where more than 15 percent of residents remain uninsured -  face significant challenges in increasing its numbers of people with health coverage.

And while the affordability of plans in Tampa is a feature administration officials highlighted during interviews Thursday at the White House, other parts of the state are reporting increases in premium costs.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation estimates that overall, marketplace plan costs will rise 9.5 percent in 2016. However, that estimate does not take into account subsidies someone may qualify for because of their income and how that would lower the consumer’s costs.

Another issue state lawmakers are wrangling with is the issue of narrowing networks. Insurers are offering fewer doctors, practitioner and facility options for consumers in their plans. As a result, consumers with plans are discovering they can’t find a doctor who falls in network.

More on the interview with the president will air on WUSF on Monday.

Mary Shedden reports for WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is part of Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I’m the lucky one who guides the WUSF News team as it shares news from across Florida and the 13 amazing counties that we call the greater Tampa Bay region.
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