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Marco Rubio votes to begin dismantling health care law despite concerns

WASHINGTON — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio joined 50 other Republicans on Wednesday to begin the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, a move that would have broad consequences for the Sunshine State.

Rubio voted for a budget resolution that paves the way for the repeal of President Obama’s signature health care law, with a vote coming as early as next week.

Florida Democrat Bill Nelson opposed the measure, joining every other Senate Democrat and one Republican: Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul wants to repeal the law, but has qualms about the underlying budget proposal because it increases the federal debt over 10 years.

On Tuesday, the GOP-controlled House passed a rules package paving the way for a repeal vote, a centerpiece of the campaigns run last year by President-elect Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers.

During his re-election bid, Rubio called it “a failed law that is hurting Floridians,” pointing to rising health care premiums and the struggle small business are having with the law’s “confusing rules and regulations.”

Though he voted for the budget resolution, Rubio has some of the same reservations about the size of the underlying budget that Paul has.

Rubio joined Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas in a letter Wednesday to Senate GOP leaders saying they support the 2017 budget resolution in order to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but they want the spending levels to be revisited in the 2018 budget.

“Our votes in favor of the ‘Obamacare Repeal Resolution’ do not indicate in any way our support for the revenue, and deficit numbers therein, nor for the use of those numbers as the basis for future federal budgets,” they wrote.

Republican leaders are using a procedural tactic called budget reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority of lawmakers to repeal the law. The process requires only 51 votes in the Senate and 218 in the House. Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate and 241 in the House.

Few states would be as affected as Florida by a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

More than 1.5 million Floridians enrolled last year in the health care exchange, the online marketplace set up by the law that allows consumers who don’t have access to coverage through their job or a government plan can sign up for insurance. In addition, 9 out of 10 state residents using the exchange qualify for some type of subsidy to offset the cost.

Enrollment has increased this year to 1,641,714 through Dec. 31, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The enrollment window for 2017 closes Jan. 31.

But Florida, like other states across the country, has seen premiums spike lately after a number of insurers left the exchange and competition dwindled.

Regardless of its flaws, the health care law’s repeal without a suitable replacement would have devastating consequences, said Mike Ellis, CEO of Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, which serves indigent patients.

“Very large numbers of people who couldn’t get insurance before will not be able to get insurance again,” he said. “This is a very large step backwards for the care of people in Florida."

Contributing: Alex Glorioso of the Naples Daily News; Erin Kelly of USA TODAY

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