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Tom Feeney: Extending health coverage is the right thing to do


As Published in the Gainesville Sun
March 9, 2015

Last week, the Florida Senate and Senate President Andy Gardiner took a significant step on an issue with profound impacts on Florida taxpayers, businesses and, ultimately, our economy.

The Senate filed SPB 7044, the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange (FHIX), based upon A Healthy Florida Works Plan. This plan was thoughtfully proposed by a bipartisan coalition of business owners, hospitals, community leaders, and individuals who support a fiscally-responsible program that draws down Florida’s share of federal funds to reform medical coverage for nearly one million Floridians.

Health care is one of the most critical issues facing all Floridians and Florida businesses. Not only are Florida businesses faced with rising health insurance premiums, but they are also faced with financial penalties if they cannot provide health care coverage to full-time employees and their dependents. These penalties went into effect in January and are already costing businesses money.

Federal law requires Florida hospitals to provide care to every person who arrives at an emergency room. The cost of paying for uncompensated hospital care in our state, which totaled nearly $3 billion in 2012, has fallen on the shoulders of Florida families and business owners. This system is expensive and inefficient, often resulting in poor patient outcomes. The cost of caring for the uninsured becomes a hidden tax on businesses, driving up health insurance premiums around 8 percent, or $1,200 per year. This cost shift is stifling the growth of our small business owners.

Associated Industries of Florida has been working with A Healthy Florida Works since 2013. AIF has forcefully advocated for a Florida-designed, free-market, consumer choice health care system, rather than have a draconian and bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all federal scheme imposed upon us.

Florida House leaders have wisely pointed out the problems with an extension of traditional Medicaid. FHIX is a private alternative that reforms this current system through personal responsibility requirements, including job and education training and monthly premiums contributions. It establishes a private option program for individuals whose income is up to approximately $16,000 a year.

Through FHIX, consumers have a choice of managed care plans most of us have today. The program will expire if the federal government reduces its funding commitment below levels currently in law. With this plan, the Florida Legislature has a tremendous opportunity to help over one million of our fellow Floridians get access to affordable care.

Market-based health care coverage for the uninsured can save businesses in our state billions of dollars in annual health care costs, help to spur job creation and keep the economic engine of Florida’s businesses, both small and large, running. Conservative Republican Governor Mike Pence has enacted a similar free-market alternative in Indiana. FHIX would create 100,000 new and permanent jobs in Florida, while dramatically reducing costs to business owners.

Florida’s business community is united in its support for extending health care coverage.

A Healthy Florida Works coalition has more than 700 business owners, 20 local chambers of commerce and 112,000 individuals as members. We all stand united in our belief that extending health care coverage is the right thing to do for our state, our businesses and all Floridians.

OpEd in Gainesville Sun