Implementing Medicare for All in Florida would save lives, lawmakers say

By

Shane Ersland

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Florida lawmakers discussed the benefits a single-payer healthcare system could provide for residents during a town hall hosted by Medicare for All Florida on June 20.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-Florida) previously worked as the CEO of a healthcare company because it gave her an opportunity to address health inequities and access challenges she had seen growing up in New York. She watched her uncle—a doctor from Haiti—attempt to care for many community members because they did not have healthcare coverage. 

“But when I looked at the other side of town, I saw rich families who lived and thrived, and paid for their insurance,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “It was a totally different situation. And once I moved to Florida, it was even more profound. I saw too many times that there were (people) who died because they didn’t have the money to get healthcare. And it’s just about money. That’s the reason I saw so many families losing fathers, mothers, and children. Because we do have the medication (and) the medical means to save many people.”

Cherfilus-McCormick is a member of the House’s Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and noted that 2.5 million Floridians do not have health insurance. 

“This staggering number represents real people who are forced to navigate life without the safety net of healthcare,” she said. “More than 37,000 of these individuals die each year because they’re uninsured. These deaths can be prioritized (and) prevented if we prioritize people over profit. Every day, I receive messages from my constituents who are struggling to access the care they need, whether it’s due to high cost, lack of coverage, or systemic disparities.”

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Cherfilus-McCormick is a cosponsor of the Medicare for All Act

“Medicare for All would be one of the biggest ways we can leverage equality throughout the entire U.S. to make sure all Americans have access to a better way of life, and not be driven into debt,” she said. “(It) will remove the financial obstacles that prevent many Floridians from getting the care they need. The current system with its copays, deductibles, and complex pre-authorizations discourage people from seeking medical attention in a timely manner.”

Floridians would no longer have to pay out-of-pocket fees for essential healthcare services, leading to better overall health outcomes and higher quality of life, Cherfilus-McCormick said. 

“The act will cover long-term care for seniors, and those with disabilities,” she said. “As our population ages, the need for comprehensive long-term care solutions becomes increasingly urgent.”

Medicare for All would also significantly reduce the cost of prescription drugs for Floridians, Cherfilus-McCormick said. 

“By negotiating drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, this legislation will lower the cost of medication, making life-saving drugs affordable for everyone. Floridians would no longer have to choose between buying their prescription drugs and paying their bills. We can continue to face rising costs, widening disparities, and suffering, or choose a better future for all Floridians.”

— Cherfilus-McCormick

Carlos Guillermo Smith—state senator-elect for Florida’s 17th district, who previously served as representative of House District 49—noted that he co-introduced the Healthy Florida Act while he was a member of the House. The bill—which died in 2019—featured a framework for creating a single-payer healthcare system in Florida. 

“The Republican majority in Tallahassee did not consider our proposal,” Guillermo Smith said. “It was not given a committee hearing. But, as I demonstrated with my election to the Senate without opposition, we should never give up, quit, (or) get discouraged. I didn’t after I lost reelection to the House in 2022, and now I’m a state senator.”

Guillermo Smith discussed the Live Healthy Act, which was signed into law this year. The initiative aims to supplement the state’s healthcare workforce and spark innovation in the industry. 

“(It’s) a series of good and modest reforms to our healthcare system that helped grow our healthcare workforce and address critical workforce shortages,” he said. “It does a lot to remove regulations for the workforce, (and) enhances access to care. It increases reimbursement rates for providers, (and) encourages technology innovation. Nothing in the package was particularly harmful or controversial; this was all good policy. But it was passed with a glaring omission: Medicaid expansion in the state. (That) is the bare minimum Florida can do to substantially increase access to healthcare in wake of a state-based or federal-based single-payer system.”   

Many Floridians lost their health coverage during the state’s Medicaid redetermination process, Guillermo Smith noted, with the majority of people losing coverage in the last year consisting of children, parents, young adults, (and) new mothers. 

“And that is not acceptable. As I enter my first term as a state senator, there’s a lot we will be advocating for to expand healthcare access in our state. First and foremost, we will continue pushing to expand Medicaid. This will insure about 726,000 uninsured Floridians. If we expand Medicaid, we will be able to generate an extra $5 billion per year in federal funding from the 90 percent enhanced federal match for Medicaid we will be able to get. The state will also save $200 million annually if we expand Medicaid. That comes from higher reimbursement rates (and) lower healthcare costs.”

— Guillermo Smith

Another thing lawmakers can do to advance the universal healthcare cause is file legislation that would require a study to be conducted on what the impact of a single-payer health system would be in Florida, Guillermo Smith said. That would give advocates the tools and data they need to keep making progress on the initiative, he said.  

Dr. Robert Hatch, assistant clerkship director of the Family Medicine and Ambulatory Care Clerkship at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said the U.S. lags behind other industrialized countries in maternal mortality rates by an embarrassing percentage. The U.S. had 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2018, which was higher than France (8.7), Canada (8.6), the United Kingdom (6.5), Australia (4.8), Switzerland (4.6), Sweden (4.3), Germany (3.2), Netherlands (3), and Norway (1.8). 

“We outspend every one of these countries, by far, on healthcare,” Hatch said. “What is the difference? They all provide insurance or a national health system to their populations. Insuring everyone can save a lot of lives. When you’re a physician on the front lines, and see this almost every day, it makes you wish we had something better. Medicare for All is a super-efficient way to get everybody health insurance. We would not have to increase our total healthcare funding at all, and we could buy health insurance premiums for everybody.”

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