Editorial Roundup: Florida

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

___

July 6

The Florida Times-Union on the Affordable Care Act in Florida:

There is no debate about this statistic: Florida is the most popular state for the Affordable Care Act.

With 1.9 million Floridians signing up for Obamacare in 2019, Florida continues to lead the nation in sign-ups.

Even Texas, with more people, had fewer sign-ups — 1.1 million. North Carolina was next with 505,275.

As for Florida, the sign-ups have increased from 983,775 in 2014 to 1.9 million last year.

The reason for the popularity of the Affordable Care Act in Florida has a lot to do with the refusal of state leaders to expand Medicaid.

Nevertheless, it is beyond belief that Florida has have joined a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the act that is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It represents an official thumbing of the nose to Floridians who need health care. Even with so many sign-ups for Obamacare, Florida still has 2.7 million people who are uninsured.

According to healthinsurance.org, Florida has a Medicaid coverage gap. Non-disabled childless adults are not eligible for Medicaid.

According to a brief from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Trump administration has changed from opposing specific elements of the law to opposing it in total.

Essential elements of the act initially included the individual mandate and the tax penalty for not buying insurance, Medicaid expansion and protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

The Supreme Court earlier approved the tax but said that states were not required to expand Medicaid.

When Congress scrapped the tax penalty, that meant the entire law must fall, said the Trump administration as does a total of 18 state attorneys general.

Republican supporters of the lawsuit insist that they still support protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but this looks like an old political tactic of offering goodies without paying for them.

Congress clearly wanted to eliminate the individual mandate but keep the rest of it. That was confirmed by Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican from Tennessee. Congress had voted down a repeal measure.

There still is no credible Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Responsible health industry leaders have offered suggestions to repair, not replace, the act. But those proposals have gone nowhere in partisan Washington.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the entire Affordable Care Act, it could result in 20 million people losing their health insurance, according to the Urban Institute, including many Floridians.

Florida leads the nation in sign-ups for Obamacare, so why is the state challenging it in court?

There is no debate about this statistic: Florida is the most popular state for the Affordable Care Act.

With 1.9 million Floridians signing up for Obamacare in 2019, Florida continues to lead the nation in sign-ups.

Even Texas, with more people, had fewer sign-ups — 1.1 million. North Carolina was next with 505,275.

As for Florida, the sign-ups have increased from 983,775 in 2014 to 1.9 million last year.

The reason for the popularity of the Affordable Care Act in Florida has a lot to do with the refusal of state leaders to expand Medicaid.

Nevertheless, it is beyond belief that Florida has have joined a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the act that is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It represents an official thumbing of the nose to Floridians who need health care. Even with so many sign-ups for Obamacare, Florida still has 2.7 million people who are uninsured.

According to healthinsurance.org, Florida has a Medicaid coverage gap. Non-disabled childless adults are not eligible for Medicaid.

According to a brief from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Trump administration has changed from opposing specific elements of the law to opposing it in total.

Essential elements of the act initially included the individual mandate and the tax penalty for not buying insurance, Medicaid expansion and protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

The Supreme Court earlier approved the tax but said that states were not required to expand Medicaid.

When Congress scrapped the tax penalty, that meant the entire law must fall, said the Trump administration as does a total of 18 state attorneys general.

Republican supporters of the lawsuit insist that they still support protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but this looks like an old political tactic of offering goodies without paying for them.

Congress clearly wanted to eliminate the individual mandate but keep the rest of it. That was confirmed by Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican from Tennessee. Congress had voted down a repeal measure.

There still is no credible Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Responsible health industry leaders have offered suggestions to repair, not replace, the act. But those proposals have gone nowhere in partisan Washington.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the entire Affordable Care Act, it could result in 20 million people losing their health insurance, according to the Urban Institute, including many Floridians.

Evidence shows that the law continues to remain popular without the mandate, especially in Florida.

More insurers have joined the marketplace for the Affordable Care Act in Florida, driving down prices.

Opposing the Affordable Care Act is all about ideology, not serving the people.

Online: https://www.jacksonville.com/

___

July 5

The Palm Beach Post on Florida's coronavirus response and contact tracing:

We are losing the war against the coronavirus. And It didn’t have to be this way.

Two months ago, as states began reopening, they were given a road map to doing so safely: Heed the epidemiological data that would say if the caseload was going down — and staying down — before taking the next step in gradually reopening. Vastly expand testing.

And use “contact tracing” to identify and isolate people who had been exposed. That’s how you can slow the virus’ spread while allowing most people to mingle in society.

But governors are politicians. Many, mostly in red states, cherry-picked the data to suit their message, did more but not enough testing, and essentially raised the white flag on contact tracing. Talk about going into battle half-cocked.

To be sure, deaths — currently nearing a shocking 130,000 across the nation — have slowed as we have done better at isolating the frail and elderly. But hospitalizations are growing again as the number of reported infections surges to above 50,000 a day.

Despite a premature victory lap from Gov. Ron DeSantis in May, the total confirmed cases in Florida jumped by about 50% just in the last week. The 10,109 new cases reported Thursday by the state Department of Health set a grim new daily record.

We need to be deploying every weapon at our disposal against this rapidly spreading virus, so we don’t have to go back to using the blunt instrument of stay-at-home orders that shut down our economies and our lives for fear of apocalyptic death tolls.

With cases rising sharply over the last month, we’re finally seeing growth in testing. But contact tracing? That’s still woefully inadequate.

In late April, as DeSantis proudly declared a Phase 1 reopening for our state amid a Oval Office visit with President Donald Trump, this Editorial Board pleaded that, “Right now, without delay, there should be an aggressive drive going on to recruit teams of people to locate those contacts. But DeSantis barely seems to mention the need.”

Amazingly, he still doesn’t — even as greater testing has shown the coronavirus has surged throughout the state over the past three weeks with a positivity rate around 17% — well above the 10% threshold state officials have set as optimum. In Palm Beach County, the positivity rate is also near 15%. In Miami-Dade, an astounding 23%.

DeSantis calls the high positivity rate cause for concern, but still doesn’t talk about deploying legions for contact tracing.

According to estimates from the National Association of County and City Health Officials, Florida needs 30 tracers per 100,000 residents. But the state currently has only 7 per 100,000, one of the lowest rates in the country. Palm Beach County has around 6 per 100,000.

Last month, Palm Beach County Health Director Dr. Alina Alonso told county commissioners that the problems with contact tracing mounted as cases spiked following the Phase 1 reopening in mid-May.

Early on in the pandemic, when it was mostly elderly people showing symptoms, about 90% of people testing positive were reached by health investigators.

That’s down to 72% now, Alonso told commissioners. Worse, the tracers are reaching only half the people who the infected have been in contact with.

The nationwide standard for contact tracing is generally 80% of positive people reached, and 70% of contacts reached.

Alarmingly, this poor performance is typical in the nation today.

Last week, when asked by CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen how the United States is doing with contact tracing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, answered, “I don’t think we’re doing very well.”

“If you go into the community and call up and say, ‘how’s the contact tracing going?’ the dots are not connected because a lot of it is done by phone. You make a contact, 50% of the people because you’re coming from an authority don’t even want to talk to you,” he said.

He recommended that communities “get boots on the ground and to go out there and look for the people, instead of getting on a phone and doing so-called contact tracing by phone.”

Other public health experts fear that the coronavirus is spreading too rapidly and too broadly for the U.S. to bring it under control.

“We’re not in the situation of New Zealand or Singapore or Korea where a new case is rapidly identified and all the contacts are traced and people are isolated who are sick and people who are exposed are quarantined and they can keep things under control,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday. “We have way too much virus across the country for that right now, so it’s very discouraging.”

This won’t do if we really want to protect the vulnerable from this virus. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before a spike in deaths follows the resurgence in cases and growth in hospitalizations.

The risk of casualties from this war is too high not to use every weapon at our disposal. Wear face masks, practice social distancing and test, test, test. But also hire more contact tracers to help identify, isolate and treat those who have been exposed.

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com/

___

July 2

The Tampa Bay Times on school vouchers in Florida:

School vouchers may make sense to rescue a poor child from a failing public school. But private schools that accept vouchers should be just as accountable for the quality of the education they’re providing with taxpayer dollars — your dollars — as public schools. Whether religious or secular, any school that accepts public dollars must not discriminate on the basis of race or sexual orientation. And school vouchers should be limited to poorer kids who need options, not well-off families who have plenty of them.

The bill (HB 7067) that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last week falls short on most of those measures. The bill offers a thin veneer of accountability by requiring private schools to administer and report standardized test results. But there is no penalty — the private school could score well below average and still retain its voucher eligibility. Traditional public schools are not allowed to simply document their failing results year after year and suffer no consequences. Private schools that accept vouchers should have to meet reasonable performance standards. A failing private school is no better than a failing public one.

The new law is silent on any questions of discrimination. The Legislature had a chance to get this right. In fact, Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, sponsored SB 56, which would have banned private schools from accepting vouchers if they discriminated “based on the student’s race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” The bill died without a vote. The Legislature should right this wrong in the coming session.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that religious schools are entitled to the same taxpayer monies as other private schools. The decision was simple: If a state offers vouchers to private schools, it must include religious schools. Since the Legislature and governor are clearly happy to offer taxpayer dollars to private schools, it is imperative that an anti-discrimination provision passes this next session. Without it, more stories will arise like the one out of the Orlando area where a religious school accepted scholarship funds yet discriminated against LGBTQ youth and employees.

While vouchers can be a life line for economically deprived students, offering them to better-off families is bad policy and destructive to Florida’s public schools, where the vast majority of students are still educated. Under the new law, priority for vouchers goes to students whose families make $47,638 or less (for a family of four). Fair enough. But next in line are families who make $77,250 or less. And if money is still left over, families making up to $83,688 would be eligible. These families are not poor by any reasonable definition, nor are they without options. And provisions in the new law make it likely that those income ceilings will only rise. Eventually, the state will effectively have vouchers for all comers.

Dipping into state coffers to fund middle-class vouchers ultimately hurts the poor kids still attending underfunded traditional public schools. Yes, vouchers can help poorer students get a legitimate chance at a better education. But without proper safeguards and accountability and limits on income eligibility, this system will spin out of control and hurt not only public education, but many of the very children it purports to help.

Online: https://www.tampabay.com/