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Healthy State tells the stories you need to know to stay well, with a special focus on Florida.We'll bring you the latest fitness trends, new research on preventing and treating disease, and information about how health policy impacts your pocketbook.We report on health using all the tools at our disposal -- video, audio, photos and text -- to bring these stories to life.Healthy State is a project of WUSF Public Media in Tampa and is heard on public radio stations throughout Florida. It also is available online at wusfnews.org.

Heritage Foundation Rally Cry: 'Defund Obamacare'

Steve Newborn

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act rallied hundreds of conservatives at a Tampa hotel Wednesday night with a call for the Republican House to strip funds for the law out of next year's budget.

The budget vote is scheduled for right after Labor Day, in time for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

"Can we defund Obamacare? Yes, we can!" declared Mike Needham, CEO of the host group Heritage Action for America. The crowd applauded heartily at his use of President Barack Obama's campaign slogan.

The town hall meeting in Tampa was heckle-free, unlike the one on Tuesday in Dallas. The host group, affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, is hopscotching across the South, firing up the anti-Obamacare troops during Congress' August recess.

Needham said that U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Palm Harbor, has already pledged not to vote for the budget if it contains spending for implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Needham called on the crowd to pressure other members of Congress to follow Bilirakis' example.

The main speaker, former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, continued that theme, saying, "Politicians don't lead. ...they follow. They need to be forced to do the right thing."

DeMint, president of the Heritage Foundation, said President Obama wants to gain control over Americans, seize their assets and "redistribute" them. He said Obama is "tearing up our country" and that he will "betray the things we love."

The health law is not about compassion for the uninsured, DeMint said; "it's about control."

Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF
Former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, right, with Michael Needham, CEO of Heritage Action.

He also said Obamacare will turn American health care into a government-controlled system akin to that of Britain or Canada.  He did not explain; neutral observers have noted that the Affordable Care Act retains the employer-based system of coverage through private health plans.

PolitiFact's Angie Holan, who fact-checked DeMint's speech during the event, said her organization has examined this claim in the past and rated it "false." 

Another claim that DeMint made Wednesday night has also been rated "false" in the past. He said aid Obamacare "violates every American principle that we know: the concept of individual decision-making and individual responsibility, having your choices, having a relationship directly with your doctor, and your doctor and you deciding about your care." 

The law doesn't really talk about the doctor-patient relationship. DeMint did not explain what he meant, except for mentioning there will be many newly covered patients competing for doctors. The law offers primary care doctors a Medicaid pay raise, provides health-training scholarships and loans, and requires doctors to gradually shift from paper to electronic medical records.

DeMint said the Republicans in the House are well aware that their many votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act are meaningless, since the Democrats in control of the Senate will not consider it. But a vote for a budget that strips out health-law funds is a different matter, he said. The Senate and President will be forced to choose between accepting the budget without health-law funds or leaving the government without spending authority after Oct. 1.

"There are a lot of Republicans saying, 'We don't want to do that because that might risk us losing the House in 2014,'" DeMint said. "Since when do Americans not fight for what they believe in because they're afraid they might lose?"

There is no time to waste, he said. On Oct. 1, the online Marketplace is scheduled to open, where uninsured people can shop for a plan. On Jan. 1, the requirement that most Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty goes into effect.

"This might be that last off-ramp for us to stop Obamacare before it gets so enmeshed in our culture that it's impossible to change." -- Former Sen. Jim DeMint, Heritage Foundation president

"By this time next year,  tens of millions of Americans will have lost the insurance they had; they will be in these exchanges. It will be very, very difficult to unravel this thing. So this is the time. This might be that last off-ramp for us to stop Obamacare before it gets so enmeshed in our culture that it's impossible to change," DeMint said.

While the "defunders" of Obamacare were inside the Crowne Plaza, about a dozen of its defenders stood in the rain out front, carrying signs and waving to traffic on busy West Kennedy Boulevard.

Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF
Protesters outside the event

Megan Milanese, a public health graduate student at University of South Florida, said she is standing up for the law "because it's important to me as a public-health student, as an individual, and as a young woman."

Karen Clay, 60, hasn't had health insurance since her marriage ended 12 years ago; when she gets sick, she has to go to the emergency room because doctors won't see her without insurance. She said she has to stay well to take care of her severely disabled son.

"I need a colonoscopy; I can't afford one," she said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, she will finally be able to get the test. When Oct. 1 comes, she said, "I will be the first one to sign up."

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Carol Gentry at 813-974-8629 (desk) or e-mail at cgentry@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.After serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, Gentry worked for a number of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), the Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel. She was a Kaiser Foundation Media Fellow in 1994-95 and earned an Master's in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1996. She directed a journalism fellowship program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for four years.Gentry created Health News Florida, an independent non-profit health journalism publication, in 2006, and served as editor until September, 2014, when she became a special correspondent. She and Health News Florida joined WUSF in 2012.
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