Back in 2014, a 32-year-old mother of three became another statistic, a mounting number underscoring everything that’s wrong with Florida’s stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid.
In March of that year, Charlene Dill collapsed and died on a stranger’s floor. Dill was at the Kissimmee home selling vacuum cleaners, one of three part-time jobs she was juggling in order to care for her children.
Dill suffered from a pre-existing heart condition, an affliction that complicated her pregnancies, and yielded other ensuing health issues. She had lost whatever health insurance she had following a separation from her husband, and she was frequently unable to afford her life-saving medication. Yet her industriousness meant she didn’t qualify for Medicaid — Dill’s meager $9,000 yearly earnings disqualified her.
Her illness could have been easily managed had Republican lawmakers agreed to broaden the state’s Medicaid program so that the working poor, like Dill, could access affordable healthcare.
But they didn’t.
In the intervening years, that heartless indifference has taken a staggering toll in Florida, not only in the death rates of women like Dill, but among minority women and infants as well.
According to a report just published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, nearly 16,000 individuals died in those states that refused to expand Medicaid, including Florida — the human collateral damage from blind adherence to a partisan agenda.
And in May, in a separate paper published by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, researchers found that Medicaid coverage, especially for low income and minority women, plays a pivotal role in determining who stays healthy, and who doesn’t.
Florida offers Medicaid to four categories of people: pregnant women, aged and disabled people, family members or caretakers, and children. There are varying income thresholds for the respective groups. In other words, Floridians in the four categories listed above, depending on certain circumstances, must earn at or below a set percentage of the federal poverty level — an income of roughly $12,000 — to qualify for coverage. Pregnant women, for example, can qualify for Medicaid while earning 191 percent of the federal poverty level. However, this window opens too late and closes too soon. Medicaid in Florida does not cover childless adults, thus some women may have been uninsured prior to pregnancy. And, just two months after childbirth, the income eligibility for continuing Medicaid coverage falls to 32 percent of the federal poverty level, depriving many post-partum women of the vital care they and their infants need.
Expanding Medicaid would secure much-needed healthcare coverage for nearly a million currently uninsured Floridians, offering the preconception and postpartum healthcare critical for infant and maternal health. In fact, researchers found that as women have access to care prior to pregnancy, and risk factors like diabetes and heart disease are addressed, maternal death rates decline.
I have been a vocal proponent of Medicaid expansion throughout my time in public office and it is one of my greatest disappointments that our Republican-controlled state Legislature has failed to do so. The people most impacted by this refusal aren’t looking for handouts; they’re often among the most hard-working among us, but left uncovered by their employers or unable to qualify under current state government restrictions.
Stopping preventable illness and death is a big part of the drive behind the Medicaid expansion initiative being pushed for the 2020 ballot here in Florida. I will continue to strongly advocate for the healthcare coverage the people of our state have earned and hope you will join the push for change. Salary levels and skin color shouldn’t be the determining factors in who suffers and who thrives. Women like Charlene Dill should count for more than just a shrug.
The author represents District 31 in the Florida Senate