Floridians Really Want Politicians to Expand Medicaid, Data Shows

Office of Gov. Rick Scott
Remember when Florida activist Cara Jennings confronted Florida governor and Arctic-dwelling trickster demon Rick Scott inside a Starbucks, called him "an asshole" to his face, and asked how he could live with himself after he refused to expand Medicaid in Florida and give more people health care?

Apparently, a whole lot of Floridians agree with Jennings these days. According to new data from the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress, an estimated 65 percent of Florida voters support expanding Medicaid across the state — and, amazingly, voters in every legislative or congressional district from the Keys all the way up to the Panhandle support the idea.

"In context, Medicaid expansion enjoys a higher level of approval in Florida than Rick Scott (~50 percent statewide), Marco Rubio (~55 percent statewide), or Bill Nelson (~58 percent statewide)," Data for Progress writes.

The think tank notes the idea is most popular among black voters, women, and low-income earners. The idea even enjoys majority support from traditionally conservative-leaning groups, including 53 percent of white men. In light of the fact that those demographics often have low voter turnout, the data suggests politicians who campaign on expanding Medicaid — or perhaps even creating a full Medicaid-for-all program — might be able to motivate nonvoters or infrequent voters to cast ballots.

In South Florida, support for the idea is similarly strong: More than 63 percent of voters in each Florida Senate district from the Keys to Palm Beach County support the idea. A full 69 percent of voters in Senate District 38, which includes parts of Miami Beach and mainland Miami, are in favor of Medicaid expansion. Even in a traditionally right-leaning section of Miami-Dade County, District 36, 63.5 percent of voters support expansion.

Data for Progress used information from a St. Leo University opinion poll conducted in 2015 and 2016 to map out voter approval in each state legislative district. Though Data for Progress noted there is likely "considerable uncertainty" in some of the geographic estimates (especially when broken down by Florida house district), the study argues that taken as a whole, the data shows a majority of Floridians want expanded government health programs.

For Democratic politicians hoping to flip districts this fall, the data also suggests they should make government health-care expansion a central tenet of their platforms. But the study also suggests Democratic candidates can pretty easily whack their Republican counterparts for making it more difficult to obtain health insurance. In addition to Scott's refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Rubio and Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart each voted repeatedly last year to strip health-care access from millions of people.

Rubio, Curbelo, and Diaz-Balart each voted for failed Obamacare-repeal packages in 2017, and Rubio went so far as to suggest repealing Obamacare without a replacement plan, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned could strip insurance from 32 million people. The three candidates then voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which both cut taxes on the wealthy and removed the "individual mandate" from the Affordable Care Act. Just this week, the CBO suggested the individual-mandate repeal that Miami's Republicans supported will cause insurance premiums to rise 15 percent next year and will also strip 5 million people of their insurance policies by 2027. All three politicians, as well as Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, have taken significant chunks of campaign money from the for-profit health-care industry.

Virtually all of Florida's Democratic gubernatorial, congressional, and Senate candidates are running on some form of Medicaid expansion in 2018. Gubernatorial frontrunners Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, and Andrew Gillum have all endorsed the idea, as has Nelson.

Curiously, some Dems, including Nelson, have refused to go out on a limb and fully support the burgeoning Medicare-for-all movement. Centrist Democratic congressional frontrunner Donna Shalala has finally come out in support of universal health care after her main challenger, the more progressive state Rep. David Richardson, criticized her for flip-flopping on the issue. Shalala also has significant ties to UnitedHealth, one of the largest for-profit health insurers in America.

As it stands, Florida has the third-highest uninsured rate in America, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A report released this month from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research warned that women's mental health is declining — and another report released this spring from the Commonwealth Fund warned that, in terms of quality of care, the Sunshine State has the fourth-worst medical system in the nation.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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