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ACA repeal failed, but Florida's health care fight continues | Opinion

For more than 30 years, I've worked as a home care worker, helping seniors with their daily needs, from bathing and dressing to cooking and taking medicine. I know firsthand the importance of a health care system that protects people like my consumers, which is why I fought alongside the millions of Americans that stood to lose their coverage under the GOP bill. Our voices made a difference and we won. But while this is a major victory, the threat to our healthcare is still very real in Florida.

Last week, the Florida state House and Senate proposed major changes to our Medicaid program, including waiving federal regulations on medical care access and steep cuts to care, which means that thousands of Floridians could lose long-term care program eligibility.

Florida has one of the largest senior populations in the country, and cuts to Medicaid would hit us hard. Home care work, for example, is largely covered through Medicaid, and keeps seniors and people with disabilities from being forced into costly institutional care.

There's high demand for our services, too: paid caregiving is one of the fastest-growing professions in the country. But in Florida, the demand is especially high — our state currently has only one home care worker for every 35 seniors in need. According to the Department of Elder Affairs, more than 6,000 Floridians died during a year-long period while they were on waiting lists for in-home care.

Imagine what that number will look like if Medicaid is slashed further.

Without Medicaid, I wouldn't be able to take care of my consumer — an elderly woman in Deerfield Beach, who depends on me to get her out of bed in the morning, cook, and clean — but also for companionship. In fact, cuts to Medicaid would put me at risk of losing my job altogether. I'm 71-years old, and while I love my job, I don't know when I'll be able to afford to stop working. I hoped to be retired by now, but when my husband fell ill, we blew through our savings, and I now live paycheck to paycheck.

Changes to Medicaid threaten both the life of my consumer and my livelihood.

Home care workers are already paid an average of just $13,300 a year. Nearly half of the workforce has to rely on public assistance to get by. If the seniors and people with disabilities that we care for lose their coverage, we will be forced out of a profession we love — exacerbating the already critical shortage of paid caregivers.

And it's not just my job that's at stake. These proposed cuts would likely take away somewhere from $300 million to $800 million of funding for hospitals, likely impacting the number of doctors, nurses, and other workers each hospital could hire. This, in turn, would impact the quality of our care statewide.

A loss of jobs would also devastate communities across the state — for vulnerable people who are at risk of losing their coverage and for health care workers like me. This would have a ripple effect across our neighborhoods, pushing more people onto public assistance and increasing cost to taxpayers.

Our representatives are well-aware of the demographics that make Florida so uniquely at-risk, for consumers and for health care workers like me. Yet instead of voting for the Medicaid expansion, many of them unconscionably support these cuts. The fact is: our Republican representatives are still playing politics with our health care. We won't forget who votes against our interests and we won't stop fighting to protect affordable, quality health care for every person in the state, just as we did nationwide.

Gwen Strowbridge is a home care worker in Miami. For more visit the SunSentinel website.

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