WASHINGTON — Florida Republicans voted with the majority of the U.S. House on Wednesday to repeal the new health care law championed by President Barack Obama, gambling that voters will side with them in November.
Republicans from South and Central Florida floated several ideas — notably malpractice reform and insurance pooling across state lines – but party leaders did not offer a clear alternative to the health care overhaul that was upheld last month by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 244-to-185 House vote was a symbolic action sure to die in the Democratic-run Senate. But it set up an intense campaign debate in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott has said he will refuse to expand the federal/state Medicaid health plan for the poor or disabled, or to set up a state-run online “exchange” for buying insurance.
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Scott and all 19 Florida Republicans in Congress hope voters will oust Obama and enough Democrats in this year’s elections to allow them to repeal the law next year or pinch parts of it by denying funding. In particular, Republicans have targeted Florida’s senior citizens, citing $500-billion “cuts” to Medicare spending over 10 years. In fact, though, total spending by the health care program for seniors would continue to rise.
“Floridians as a whole do not support the Affordable Care Act,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. “Along the I-4 corridor, it’s very much influenced by seniors who are leery of [the new law.] I think they [Democrats] picked the wrong place to take the money. If you are going to take way $500 billion, don’t take it out of the Medicare trust fund.”
“We need to start over,” Webster said. “I suspect [the Republican response] is going to be more measured, where we take it a step at a time as opposed to one large step that turns the health-care system upside down.”
Many Republicans say they want to retain popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as ensuring coverage for people with “pre-existing” health conditions and allowing adult children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ policies.
“You won’t see a thousand-page bill to replace Obamacare,” said Michael Mahaffey, an aide to U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta.
Rooney and most Republicans say they want to focus on reducing costs, starting with limits on malpractice lawsuits, which they say prompt doctors to perform costly and unnecessary medical tests and other defensive actions to avoid litigation.
Many also want to allow businesses and individuals to shop for insurance policies across state lines to get a better deal; give individuals a tax break to pay for health care; and remove insurance coverage mandates to allow people to buy cheaper and more limited policies.
“You don’t need an army of bureaucrats making health care decisions,” said U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park.
Republicans plan to campaign on the argument that the health care law amounts to a big tax increase, noting that the Supreme Court ruled that penalties for failing to buy insurance amount to a tax.
“Everybody now knows that if you vote against repeal, you are voting for a massive tax increase on the middle and working classes,” said U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican who represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. “I think the American people are going to see that all these tax increases are going to hit us after the elections.”
Democrats, however, began pumping out statistics intended to show the importance of new benefits and the cost of repealing them.
Repeal, according to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, would allow insurance companies to kick 224,000 young Florida residents off their parent’s insurance plans and allow insurers to place lifetime limits on coverage for 5,587,000 Floridians, including 2,170,000 women and 1,411,000 children.
The committee said repeal would reopen the “doughnut hole” in prescription drug coverage under Medicare, raising costs for 253,222 Floridians and forcing senior citizens to pay an average of $665 more each year for drugs.
Democrats scoffed at Wednesday’s vote.
“The name of this Congress is `Do Nothing,'” U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, said on the House floor. “Instead of voting on health care repeal, we should be debating VA (Veterans Affairs) construction. That’s one thing that matters in my state.”
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, called the repeal measure the “Republicans-Don’t-Care Act.” “Here we are again,” he said, “wasting our time on the 31st repeal measure in less than two years rather than focusing on much-needed jobs legislation.”
All six Florida Democrats in the House voted against repeal — Hastings, Brown, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Ted Deutch. of Boca Raton.
All 19 Florida Republicans voted for it, including Webster, Mica, Rooney, Diaz-Balart, Sandy Adams of Orlando and Allen West of Palm Beach Gardens.
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