New Year, Same Battle for Those in Health Care Gap

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Tallahassee to advocate in favor of closing the health care coverage gap that consists of hundreds of thousands of Floridians, including up to 291,000 young adults. But now we may have the opportunity to bridge that gap. President Obama is announcing an initiative in his 2017 budget to allow states like Florida that have not yet closed the health coverage gap to receive additional funding to strengthen their Medicaid programs.

Under the president’s proposal, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs for the first three years for states that have yet to expand access to health coverage (and no less than 90 percent thereafter).

While the Affordable Care Act was originally designed to make individuals eligible for Medicaid, health care expansion is now determined on a state-by-state basis. So while Florida’s political leaders bicker over these issues, up to 845,000 Floridians – a figure that includes me – are penalized for living within the coverage gap.

This health care gap occurs for people who are living below the poverty line and cannot receive financial assistance through healthcare.gov, but also make too much or otherwise do not to qualify for Florida’s existing Medicaid program. Medicaid in Florida is only accessible to certain low-income individuals, so childless adults can't get assistance. That leaves people like me who struggle financially but do not qualify for Medicaid, without critical access to coverage.

Florida lawmakers have refused federal funds for health care expansion. The reasoning behind the denial is as ludicrous as it is complex, and it varies depending on who you talk to. From my experience, gridlock in the Florida House of Representatives seems to prevent us from finding a suitable solution.

The issue has re-emerged this legislative session, but our lawmakers don’t seem any closer to reaching a solution.

As a voter, taxpayer, Florida resident and recent Florida International University graduate, and after experiencing the meetings with representatives last April, I am appalled at our state leaders’ approach to this issue. I sensed an immense insensitivity on the part of members of the House for the nearly one million constituents who are still paying for this political standoff, which disregards hundreds of thousands of individuals from different walks of life who are as deserving of health care as the next billionaire.

For those who disagree with health care expansion, please consider the following: The government leaders and officials who agree with you are granted a taxpayer-subsidized, Cadillac health insurance policy. With this coveted coverage, I’m sure it gives them invaluable peace of mind that they and their families are covered, regardless of medical issue.

I implore you to imagine not being able to see a doctor or get medication the next time you are injured or sick. If you can fathom being in such a despairing position, think about how it might feel being under a leadership that denies you this right while they live in security.

Isabel Betancourt is a recent college graduate who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and struggles to get the care she needs because she falls into the health care gap.