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Sen. Nelson Hears Concerns From Medicaid Enrollees

Carson Frame
WUSF 89.7 News
Sen. Nelson hears stories from Medicaid enrollees at the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse in Tampa Monday.

A group of Bay area residents shared their experiences with the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid Monday. Their audience was Sen. Bill Nelson, who was in Tampa to push back against the Republican Senate health care bill.

According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, by 2026, the Senate bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 22 million compared to the number covered under current law.

It would also cut $772 billion from Medicaid and allow states to scale back conditions that they require insurers to cover.

Nelson noted that Florida has previously refused to expand Medicaid.

“Medicaid is there for taking care of the poor, the disabled, senior citizens in nursing homes," he said. "In Florida, about 65 percent of seniors in nursing homes are on Medicaid. And some children’s programs.”

Olivia Babis is among those who would be hardest hit by the proposed changes. She was born without arms, and later had an accident which triggered symptoms of an autoimmune disorder.

"There's kind of this perception that people with disabilities...because we have a disability we can't be unfortunate or unlucky enough to have other bad things happen to us. That's not true,” Babis said. “We get cancer at the same rate as everyone else and we have other things that pop up in our health.”

Without the Affordable Care Act, Babis says, she would not be able to get insurance.

Karen Clay was another guest of Nelson's. Clay’s son, Michael Phillips, suffers from spinal muscular atrophy and receives support from Medicaid. He breathes with a vent, requires around-the-clock care, and utilizes assistive technologies in order to communicate.

Clay says she is able to care for her son at home for less money than if he was in an institution.

“My son is able to stay at home because of a Medicaid waiver. That’s what the expansion of Medicaid is all about,” she said. “We have a waiting list of over 20,000 people in the state of Florida. They would’ve been able to come off of that waiting list and receive the same services as my son does.”

At the meeting, Nelson argued that the Affordable Care Act should be fixed, not scrapped.

“Let’s take the existing law, which is working, and where it needs tuning up, let’s do it,” he said.

Nelson offered two possible changes, saying first that Florida premiums could be lowered 13 percent by helping insurance companies absorb the costs of extreme health cases.

"Well there's an easy fix to that and that is you create a reinsurance fund for the insurance company. Or a catastrophe insurance fund,” Sen. Nelson said.

Nelson went on to suggest that the government could also make changes to the cost of prescriptions.

“We could lower the price of prescription drugs,” he said. “We could easily do that by not having the prescription drugs be paid for at premium prices by Medicare. Medicare doesn’t get the discount that the federal government gets when it buys prescriptions in bulk for Medicaid. If you’re a person on Medicaid, you’re getting your drugs at discount.”

Nelson explained that Medicaid enrollees transition to Medicare coverage at age 65. At that point, he said, “the cost to the U.S. government, which is paying for their prescriptions, is retail price.”

The new health care legislation is set to be voted on in the weeks following the July 4th Congressional recess.

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