Outtakes: Unequal Access
Early Friday morning, a poor, young black mother of three died in her home. With friends and family present, she finally succumbed to brain cancer. She had no insurance and couldn’t afford the medical care that might have extended her life.
At a recent PYP event, Mark Faulkner, the president and CEO of Baptist Health Care, talked about how our community has excellent healthcare available. Unfortunately, he added that medical care isn’t readily accessible to everyone in the greater Pensacola area.
Then Faulkner asked, “Is healthcare a right or a privilege?”
If medical care is a right, then every citizen should have access to the best care possible. If the care is a privilege, then only those with wealth or medical insurance have the benefit of the best—the rich and insured live; the poor die.
When he ran for re-election in 2014, Governor Rick Scott touted his support for the expansion of Medicaid, which was available to all states under the Affordable Care Act. However, after winning the race, he reversed his position and adamantly fought against efforts by the Florida Senate to expand Medicaid in 2015. The proposed expansion, which would have offered coverage to over 600,000 uninsured Florida residents, died in the Florida Legislature.
Scott’s reversal won support from this conservative base and paved the way for him to get President Donald Trump’s help when he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018. His political calculation paid off. He supported Medicaid expansion to win the gubernatorial elections and changed his stance to position himself for the U.S. Senate.
Of course, there is an irony in Scott’s position. He got wealthy thanks to Medicaid. In 1997, he resigned as CEO of Columbia/HCA, one of the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare systems, after federal investigators uncovered massive Medicare fraud. Columbia/HCA eventually agreed to pay $840 million in criminal fines, civil damages and penalties. Scott left the company with $300 million in stock, a $5.1 million severance and a $950,000-per-year consulting contract for five years.
Meanwhile, Florida’s uninsured have stayed uninsured because of Scott’s political flip-flop. Emergency rooms continue to serve as the family doctor for the poor. Charity hospitals struggle to cover their costs. And the lives of poor, uninsured Floridians are cut short.
In Pensacola, we have wonderful hospitals and top-notch physicians. Baptist, Ascension Sacred Heart and West Florida regularly send out press releases about awards they have won for quality of care and patient satisfaction. However, not all Pensacola area residents have access to the same procedures, care and prescriptions.
Extending Medicaid coverage might not make access equal fully, but more Floridians would have a better quality of life. Yes, I believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege.