Sacred Heart says not expanding health coverage hurts area economy

Press Release: Leaders of Sacred Heart Health System say the Florida House’s vote to forgo billions of dollars in federal funding to expand insurance coverage will hurt local hospitals, the local economy and thousands of uninsured people in Northwest Florida.

State House lawmakers voted Friday for a health care plan that provides coverage to about 115,000 Florida residents, using $237 million in state funds to give recipients $2,000 a year to buy insurance.

But the plan bypasses more than $50 billion in federal funds the state is eligible to receive over the next 10 years under the Affordable Care Act to expand coverage to 1.1 million Floridians.

Susan Davis, president and CEO of Sacred Heart Health System in Pensacola, said not accepting the $50 billion in federal dollars would effectively deny healthcare to many low-income working people who desperately need insurance. It also prevents an influx of federal money that would benefit the local economy.

Davis added that an increase in federal funds for expanded health coverage would help hospitals such as Sacred Heart that have been hurt by major cuts in reimbursement for Medicaid.

“I think it’s important to our community that we accept the federal funds,” Davis said. “More than 20 percent of our population has no health insurance. So the Legislature’s decision on whether to accept those funds has a direct impact on the healthcare of many people. And it has a direct impact on hospitals such as ours that are struggling to continue services to persons who are unable to pay for their healthcare.”

Sacred Heart leaders as well as other hospitals, health advocates and business groups, support a plan passed in the state Senate that would use federal dollars to provide 1.1 million low-income residents with vouchers to purchase private health insurance. The bill proposed by Republican Joe Negron would draw down more than $50 billion federal dollars over the next decade.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act argue accepting the federal dollars would contribute to out-of-control federal spending. The Affordable Care Act calls for the federal government to fund an expansion of Medicaid at 100 percent for the first three years and at least 90 percent thereafter.

The Obama administration sought to expand coverage by expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $31,089 for a family of four and $15,415 for a single person. An analysis of the Obama plan conducted by researchers at the University of Florida concluded the expansion would create an average of 1,619 full-time and part-time jobs in Escambia County annually over the next 10 years.

The state House plan only extends coverage to people at or below 100 percent of poverty — about $11,490 for a single person and $23,550 for a family of four. Enrollees would have to pay $25 in monthly premiums.

Lawmakers are running out of time to reach a compromise. The legislative session is set to end Friday.

Hospitals are among the largest employers in Northwest Florida and a major contributor to the area economy. A study by University of Florida researchers and published by the Florida Hospital Association reported these totals for the number of full-time healthcare jobs in each county:

· Escambia, 5,152

· Santa Rosa, 810

· Okaloosa, 1,412

· Walton, 526

· Bay County, 2,652

· Gulf, 97