Sunday, December 10, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: GOP health bill bad for Florida

The Republican health care bill limping through the U.S. House is a nonstarter for Florida. Its impact on seniors, children, low-income residents and workers in the state's large tourism industry poses a great risk to public health and the state's economy. And the specter of instability for the state's safety net hospitals could cause a dramatic pullback in critical care in the major urban areas of the nation's third-largest state. This is a plan that favors the healthy and wealthy on the backs of the neediest.

A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released last week estimates the American Health Care Act would result in 14 million fewer people with health care coverage next year and 24 million fewer by 2026. Most of that change would come from repealing penalties associated with the individual mandate in Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act to buy insurance, and from changes in subsidies for individual policies and in Medicaid enrollment. In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured, or 19 percent of the population under age 65, compared to 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law, or about 10 percent of the non-elderly population. The pain would be particularly acute here in Florida, the leading ACA state, with 1.7 million people enrolled.

The legislation would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the 2017-26 period. And while average premiums would typically increase prior to 2020, the CBO estimates they would drop thereafter, and by 2026, average premiums would be about 10 percent lower than under current law.

But the savings would come from cuts to Medicaid and new pricing and benefits schemes that would especially impact Florida's elderly and low-income populations. Under a new age-rating rule, insurers could charge older enrollees five times more for coverage — rather than three times more as currently allowed — thus subsidizing insurance for younger, healthier enrollees at the expense of older residents. The AARP estimates that 454,000 older Floridians, those in their 50s and 60s, would see premiums rise.

A 21-year-old making $26,500 a year would pay premiums of $1,450, down from $1,700 under the Affordable Care Act, while an older person with the same income would see rates climb to as much as $14,600 from $1,700 a year. While the CBO estimates a broad increase in the number of uninsured, people between 50 and 64 years old and with lower incomes would be hit especially hard. By 2026, premiums would be up to 25 percent lower for a 21-year-old and 10 percent lower for a 40-year-old, but 25 percent higher for a 64-year-old. That's not good economics for a state like Florida with its large retiree population.

Some 4.3 million children, pregnant women and disabled and low-income Floridians who depend on Medicaid would be hurt, too. Because states would pay for a greater share of each enrollee's costs, CBO expects that no additional states would expand Medicaid, thus limiting enrollment and spending. While the impact would be modest in the short term, CBO estimates that on an average annual basis, 5 million fewer people would be enrolled in Medicaid by 2026 than the number under current law.

And the cuts would hurt low-income and working people across the board. For many low-income people, the tax credits in the plan would be smaller than the tax credits under current law. According to the CBO, a 21-year-old earning $21,100 today would be eligible for a premium tax credit in 2026 of about $3,400 under current law; that would fall to $2,450 under the House bill. And again, seniors would be hard hit. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the value in lost tax credits to a 60-year-old earning $60,000 a year would be $1,690 in Pasco County and $1,380 in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Average subsidies under the bill would be below what's available under current law, and they would grow more slowly, too, amounting by 2026 to about 50 percent of what is currently available.

While the Republican bill staves off some cuts to hospitals that serve large populations of uninsured patients, the cuts in Medicaid and the rising ranks of the uninsured will test safety net hospitals. Many of these facilities are critical-care providers of last resort, and they are struggling already with thin profit margins and the need to reduce costs and shift expenses to paying patients. This legislation is bad for Florida virtually across the board. It does not recognize the needs of a large and growing state or the human and economic benefits of having a healthy population.

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Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trump’s risky move

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampa’s MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampa’s MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough County’s Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasn’t enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, it’s looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the city’s dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17