Florida has a chance to do the right thing. We need your help convincing lawmakers to do it.
Your neighbors, hard-working but low income, are struggling to get the medical care they need. A 52-year-old single man lives alone, has diabetes, neuropathy, a foot ulcer, symptoms of depression, no means of transportation and no health insurance. He needs access to medical care. A 30-year-old man with a bone disease and no insurance relies on the Emergency Department (ED) for care. He needs access to medical care. Two women - one 49 years old and the other 50 years old - who struggle with being overweight. They need access to medical care. These are real examples of the patients Lee Memorial Health System serves - in our four Emergency Departments and in our Lee Physician Group Dunbar and North Fort Myers United Way Houses.
For these patients and so many others, the best place to get the right care is in a primary care office, but without insurance, many use the ED to get the care they need without fear of being turned away. Most of these individuals have jobs, but not health insurance.
We opened our two Lee Physician Group United Way Houses - with a third to open soon - to provide a medical home for underinsured and uninsured people in our community. Our initial forecast when creating the clinics was that more than 50 percent of patients would have Medicaid or Medicare coverage, but in reality most are uninsured. Many have jobs, but are adults without children, who are not poor enough for Medicaid or sick enough for the Medically Needy program. These people - the working poor - need access to medical care.
Florida legislators are divided over whether to accept $51 billion in federal dollars to expand health insurance for poor Floridians. A bill in the Senate, sponsored by Republican Joe Negron, would cover more than 1 million uninsured adults and children through subsidized private insurance and capture the federal dollars to pay for Floridian's care. An inferior bill being considered in the House rejects the federal money, covers only 115,000 people and would cost state taxpayers $237 million-a-year.
The Federal government made cuts to Medicare to fund the Affordable Care Act and assist low-income workers get insurance coverage. Now Florida is considering refusing that money. The $51 billion in Federal funds, of which Florida taxpayers pay their share, will go to other states if we do not find an alternate solution. Some critics say the promise of a steady stream of federal dollars is unreliable. We disagree. The Federal government has never stopped the funding of a health care program once it was started.
Our four female patients mentioned above are getting the primary care they need to stay out of the hospital; they take the medication they've had prescribed, they have started exercising, they have lost weight and have better control over their health conditions. They are success stories, but there are tens of thousands of adults in our community who need this same type of care. Our charity clinics are at capacity. Expanded insurance for the working poor would give a million more Floridians access to the medical care they need.
Lee Memorial Health System provided almost $40 million in charity care last year, most of it caring for patients in the emergency department. Businesses and individuals pay higher insurance premiums to cover this deficit. It is a "hidden tax" for which everyone pays more.
A community looks out for each other. Together, we must let our elected officials know that we need coverage expansion. We have set up easy access to contact your representative, by going to this link: www.leememorial.org/mainlanding/affordable-care-act.asp . Please take the time to contact your representatives to let them know that the hard-working people of Southwest Florida need help and that coverage expansion using tax funds already going to Washington should be leveraged back to our state and community.
For all the people who get appropriate and timely health care, there are tens of thousands of local people who do not. We hope that coverage will expand so the hard-working people in our community get the care they need and deserve.
Jim Nathan is the president of Lee Memorial Health System.