Many in Florida Count on Obama’s Health Law, Even Amid Talk of Its Demise
- More vulnerable are people like Gerardo Murillo Lovo, 44, a construction worker who never had health insurance before signing up for a marketplace plan in 2014.
- Luis Perez Cuevas, 55, reviewing insurance rates at the Sunshine Health and Life Advisors kiosk.
- The agency has enrolled tens of thousands of Floridians under the Affordable Care Act over the past three years.
- Even though Gov. Rick Scott fiercely opposes the law, more than 1.5 million Floridians were enrolled in marketplace plans as of March, the last time the Obama administration released data.
- Health Care Issues Loom in Politics, Payments and Quality NOV. 14, 2016
In a state that Donald J. Trump won, many do not believe he will end a benefit they rely on, posing a challenge for those seeking to scrap the program.
@jonathanweisman: She voted for Trump in Fla. The next week, she reupped her ObamaCare policy & doesn’t believe anything will change.
MIAMI — Dalia Carmeli, who drives a trolley in downtown Miami, voted for Donald J. Trump on Election Day. A week later, she stopped in to see the enrollment counselor who will help her sign up for another year of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
“I hope it still stays the same,” said Ms. Carmeli, 64, who has Crohn’s disease and relies on her insurance to cover frequent doctor’s appointments and an array of medications.
Mr. Trump and Republicans in Congress are vowing to repeal much or all of the health law, a target of their party’s contempt since the day it passed with only Democratic votes in 2010. If they succeed, they will set in motion an extraordinary dismantling of a major social program in the United States.
But for now, with open enrollment for 2017 underway, people are steadily signing up or renewing their coverage, and in conversations last week in South Florida, many refused to believe that a benefit they count on would actually be taken away.
Florida helped hand Mr. Trump the presidency when he narrowly won the state, but it has also provided more customers for the federal health insurance marketplace than any other state. This makes Florida a window to the complex and delicate task Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans face in deciding whether to scrap the entire law, which has brought coverage to more than 20 million people, and what to replace it with.
Even though Gov. Rick Scott fiercely opposes the law, more than 1.5 million Floridians were enrolled in marketplace plans as of March, the last time the Obama administration released data. And some of the problems that have plagued the marketplaces in other states have been less of an issue here: The premium increases and overall prices have been lower than average, and at least in urban areas, a number of insurers are still participating.
Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health and medicine at the University of South Florida, said that while many Floridians would be happy to see the law disappear, and the state’s Republican leaders have never shied away from attacking it, failing to come up with a substantive replacement could be politically risky.
“The question I think we all have is, how do they transition out of it?” he said. “How do they do it without dumping millions of people off the edge of a cliff?”
Despite the law’s problems, including sharp premium increases for next year, millions of people, including many in states that Mr. Trump won, have come to depend on it. Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, like Florida, have large numbers of people insured through HealthCare.gov. And 16 states that now have Republican governors or governors-elect expanded Medicaid under the law, including Indiana under Mike Pence, now the vice president-elect.
The Obama administration said last week that over the first 12 days of open enrollment, plan selections in the states that use the federal marketplace were up by about 5 percent compared with the same period last year. Some of the states that run their own marketplaces have reported brisker business: In Colorado, sign-ups are running 30 percent higher than they were at this point in the last open enrollment period, according to Kevin Patterson, the chief executive of the state’s marketplace.
If the pace continues, hundreds of thousands more people could be added to the insurance rolls, even as Republicans discuss alternative legislation that could drop millions.
“Even with the whole situation, it’s been a great start,” said Odalys Arevalo, an owner of Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, an insurance agency that she said has enrolled tens of thousands of Floridians, mostly working-class Hispanics, in health law plans over the past three years. She added, however, that people were confused and were asking many questions about the future of the law.
Nonprofit groups with federal grants to enroll the uninsured are conducting an ever more strategic search for them — working, for example, with the consulates of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Uruguay in Miami to identify “lawfully present” immigrants who might want coverage (they qualify for subsidies under the law, even without citizenship) and with a small American Indian tribe in the Panhandle.
“We’re in the here and now, and nothing has changed at the moment,” said Karen Egozi, the chief executive of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, repeating a new mantra among the group’s 90 enrollment counselors. As of Tuesday, they had signed up 277 people for insurance since Nov. 1, when enrollment began, she said, compared with 193 over the same period last year.
In South Florida, a teeming mix of retirees who may not have reached Medicare age, hotel and restaurant workers and recently arrived immigrants working for small, homegrown businesses has helped ensure robust enrollment in the subsidized plans offered through the marketplace. While the Republican leaders of the state have refused to expand Medicaid, individuals with annual incomes of about $12,000 to $47,500 qualify for subsidies that pay some or most of the cost.
Ninety-one percent of plan holders in Florida this year receive premium subsidies — a higher percentage than in any other state — and 71 percent also have reduced deductibles, a benefit available to people at or below 250 percent of the poverty level.
Some of them, like Ms. Carmeli, voted for Mr. Trump. She pays $45 toward her monthly premium, with a subsidy of about $600 covering the rest. She is looking at a new premium of $171 if she keeps her current plan, but she believes that she will find a more affordable option.
“Trump is going to keep it for a while, at least the part where if you have a disease you can still get coverage,” she said, adding that she would turn 65 next summer and get Medicare, so she would stay covered regardless.
More vulnerable are people like Gerardo Murillo Lovo, 44, a construction worker who never had health insurance before signing up for a marketplace plan in 2014. He pays $15 a month and gets a subsidy of $590 for a plan that covers his wife, as well. When he renewed his coverage last week at the Epilepsy Foundation, he learned that the price would not increase next year.
“I’ve heard that what he wanted to do first is get rid of Obamacare,” Mr. Murillo, a Nicaraguan immigrant who is a citizen but did not vote, said of Mr. Trump. “But my personal opinion is that he will discuss it with other people who will convince him that we can’t get rid of this. I think it’s going to be maintained one way or another, and I’m going to keep it as long as I can.”
Mr. Trump has suggested he would like to keep popular parts of the law that guarantee access to insurance for people with pre-existing conditions and that allow children to stay on their parents’ policies until they turn 26. Congressional Republicans have floated other ideas, like providing tax credits to people who buy their own health insurance, but have not yet unified around a replacement plan. The challenge they face, health care economists say, is keeping prices down without requiring everyone to have coverage, the way the Affordable Care Act does.
Even the possibility of repeal is causing extreme anxiety among some people with health problems. Mary Benner, 57, who lives near Tampa and voted for Hillary Clinton, will undergo a test next week to determine whether a spot on her lung, discovered on a routine X-ray, is cancer.
“This has been a nightmare for me,” she said of having a health scare just as Mr. Trump won the presidency and renewed his promise to repeal the law. “What I’m really hoping is that they won’t be able to come to an agreement and can’t get anything passed, so everything just stays the same.”
Others, particularly those with higher incomes, are re-enrolling grudgingly, soured by the increasingly expensive cost of marketplace plans. Bob Verrastro, a corporate tax consultant who voted for Mr. Trump, said that while he and his wife get a subsidy that reduces their monthly premium to $274, their deductible and other out-of-pocket costs are unaffordable, and he is eager to see the law repealed.
“I think it was rammed down our throats,” Mr. Verrastro, 64, of Boynton Beach, said of the law. “I’m taking advantage of it because I’d be silly not to. But it needs to be changed.”
Luis Perez Cuevas last week visited a kiosk run by Sunshine Life and Health Advisors in the Mall of the Americas in Miami, ready to renew his marketplace plan. First, though, he asked his agent, Dennis Garcia, whether it would be foolish to do so.
“I actually believe Trump’s rhetoric,” said Mr. Perez, 55, an Uber driver and maintenance worker at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Mr. Perez is paying $107 a month for his plan this year, but next year the price will drop to $49 a month, with a $484 subsidy, in part because his daughter came from Cuba and joined his household as a dependent. Because his income is low, the government also covers his deductible.
After Mr. Perez left, Mr. Garcia, the insurance agent, allowed that he hoped Mr. Trump would, in fact, change the law. It is not fair that low-income people get help with their deductibles, he said, while marketplace customers with slightly higher incomes, like himself, do not.
“Maybe Mr. Trump can make it better by making it more equal,” he said.