Activists urge the Florida Legislature to expand Medicaid coverage

St. Petersburg resident Fawn Weaver said she's grateful to Gov. Scott's decision. She said she's invisible in Florida because she's a single woman with no dependents and no safety net. She challenged any member of the Legislature to go a year without health care benefits to realize "how scary that is."

"I've done it for 10 years," she continued. "Let me tell you. It's stressful. You wanna vote against it? Take the challenge," Weaver declared with conviction.

St. Pete resident Nancy Fraze is a single mom with two kids. One of them, Dustin, has chronic asthma and allergies that require three injections at a time, twice a month, at a cost of $4,000 each time. She worries that when he turns 18 he'll no longer be eligible for Medicaid.

"Accepting these funds was the right thing for my son," Fraze said. "That's why I'm urging the Legislature to approve Medicaid expansion."

Paula Witthaus has become a health care activist in the wake of her longtime companion John's death in late 2011, which she attributes directly to his lack of medical coverage after he became ill with vasculitis — an inflammation of the blood vessels that occurs when the body's immune system attacks the blood vessels by mistake.

Witthaus said such a malady is treatable and controllable, but her boyfriend was misdiagnosed with a sinus infection and a lower back sprain. Three days after he died, she received a hospital bill for $375,000. Two days later she received a letter from Medicaid that stated he was approved for the government run health care plan for the poor.

She also challenged state legislators with their "Humana, their Aflac, and all of the insurance they have to realize that people are out here dying." She added that Medicaid expansion will work and save lives.

"Any other way to treat each other is just inhumane," Witthaus said.

Monday's news conference was organized by Awake Pinellas and Health Care for Florida, a new coalition that includes Florida CHAIN and Progress Florida.

  • Paula Witthaus holds a picture of her former companion who qualified for Medicaid treatment two weeks after he died in 2011

Next week, the Florida Legislature convenes for its 2013 session, and one of the issues members will vote on is whether to approve the deal with the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage.

Gov. Rick Scott made national headlines last week by announcing that he supports the plan, which would have the federal government pay 100 percent of all Medicaid spending in Florida for three years, and 90 percent after that. But Scott doesn't have the last word — the Legislature does. This afternoon in South St. Petersburg, a number of activists called on the Legislature to approve the deal.

Dr. Larry Floriani is an orthopedic surgeon based in Tarpon Springs and a member of Doctors for America. He began the news conference by rolling off a series of statistics about the current health care situation in Florida, and how much it would improve if the Legislature agrees to expand Medicaid.

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