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Sunday, Jul 13, 2014
Commentary

A case of failed leadership

Special to The Tampa Tribune
Published:

In a recent opinion column, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford described the abject failure to expand access to affordable heath care to 1.2 million Floridians as “a thoughtful, researched and purposeful action on the part of the House of Representatives” (“A responsible safety net,” Other Views, May 9).

In reality, what Weatherford and the state House Republican Caucus produced was not in fact a “thoughtful” action, but politically motivated inaction that is both shameful and incredibly damaging to our state.

House Republicans refused to listen to the majority of Floridians, the governor, the Florida Senate, House Democrats, and common sense. Instead, they offered a paltry alternative that would have insured only a fraction of the 1.2 million in need of health care while leaving more than $50 billion in federal funds on the table.

Weatherford cites the national debt and the Obama administration’s “social agenda” as why he and the GOP are refusing to embrace common sense. He makes clear that reaffirming his conservative credentials to the tea party comes before all else. Weatherford is so afraid of appearing to be in agreement with the president that he is willing to send Florida’s tax dollars to other states while denying affordable care to more than a million people. He is perfectly willing to sacrifice 120,000 permanent jobs and saddle businesses with up to $150 million in additional costs just to appease his far-right supporters.

Another concern expressed by Weatherford is that expanding health care would be too costly to the state and would result in fewer funds to go toward education or infrastructure. But if he was so concerned about the Legislature’s inability to find funds for other essential programs, why did he support hundreds of millions in corporate tax giveaways? Why did he give a $100,000-per-year tax break to a California company that employs a lobbyist Weatherford used to work with? The hypocrisy is breathtaking, especially when you consider Weatherford and his fellow House Republicans only pay a paltry $8.34 a month for health insurance provided by the state.

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, backed by business groups and hospitals, came together and put forth a plan that would accept the federal funds and expand access to heath care to one million Floridians. This still was not enough for Weatherford, who chose to bemoan Washington “dictates” that, in his words, “didn’t meet the needs of our state.”

I can think of 1.2 million reasons why Weatherford is unconscionably wrong in his assessment. In my life I have seen first-hand just how fundamental access to affordable health care is to a family’s physical and financial health.

When my son Jeremy was prematurely born, he was in the neonatal intensive care unit for more than a month. My health insurance kept me from having to sell my house, my car and everything I owned to pay for my child’s life-saving treatment.

At 23 months Jeremy had to have open-heart surgery and spent a week in the ICU. The bill came to more than $100,000, and because of my insurance and public programs such as Early Steps, my family was not thrown into financial ruin.

During the one week I spent with Jeremy in the ICU after his surgery, I met another mother who was not as fortunate. Her child also was receiving open-heart surgery, but she lacked insurance. She sold her home and worked multiple jobs to help pay the six-figure bill.

When the uninsured are faced with these charges, they do what they can to survive, but undoubtedly, they always end up straddled with long-term debt that eats away at their quality of life.

It is so sad that Weatherford would rather play politics than address the fundamental needs of working families in our state. His priorities could not be more misguided.

No matter how he tries to spin it, his first session as speaker will be remembered for his failed leadership and inability to embrace bipartisanship to expand access to affordable health care to 1.2 million working Floridians.


Allison Tant is the chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

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