Fact-checking the Starbucks heckler-Rick Scott spat
It starts like a joke — Gov. Rick Scott walks into a Gainesville Starbucks — but one patron wasn’t laughing.
Scott stopped in to the coffee chain for a cup Tuesday after touring the recently opened factory and headquarters for biopharmaceutical company Nanotherapeutics. Cara Jennings, a liberal activist and former Lake Worth city commissioner, saw Scott in the downtown store and ripped into him from her seat over health insurance, cuts to women’s health services and being an explicit word.
Her angry rant went viral over the next 24 hours, racking up more than 615,000 YouTube views and airing on national television.
"You cut Medicaid so I couldn’t get Obamacare," Jennings yelled. "You are an a------! You don’t care about working people. ... You should be ashamed to show your face around here."
Scott replied coolly from the counter, saying "we got a million jobs."
This only set off Jennings more.
"A million jobs? Great. Who here has a great job or is looking forward to finishing school? Do you really feel like you have a job coming up?" she said. "You stripped women of access to public health care. Shame on you, Rick Scott! We depend on those services."
Jennings kept yelling as Scott and several aides left the Starbucks. Scott told reporters Wednesday in Palm Beach that he had not seen the clip, but the woman was "not somebody you could talk to." Jennings did not return calls for comment.
PolitiFact Florida decided to play referee over three claims from the back-and-forth.
Scott and Medicaid
It doesn’t appear that Scott has outright "cut Medicaid," as Jennings said, but he has refused to accept the provision of the Affordable Care Act that would expand Medicaid to cover more of the uninsured.
Medicaid, the joint state and federal program to cover the very poor, normally extends to people making 44 percent of the federal poverty level (100 percent is currently $11,880 for an individual and $24,300 for a family of four). When Obamacare was enacted, it was supposed to cover adults up to 138 percent of that level.
In Florida, up to 948,000 people would be eligible under an expanded Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But a 2012 Supreme Court ruling made that provision optional, so Florida and 18 other states currently have not extended coverage. If a state doesn’t expand Medicaid, people who make 100 to 400 percent of the poverty level can get marketplace subsidies to buy private insurance.
That leaves a hole for people between 44 and 100 percent of the poverty level. This is known as the coverage gap. An estimated 567,000 Floridians fall into that gap.
We tried to reach Jennings by phone, text, email and even Facebook, but didn’t hear back from her, so we don’t really know the specifics of her situation. That makes it difficult to gauge whether she was able to benefit from the health care law. However, she told Tampa’s ABC Action News that she that she was a single mother working part time, so it’s entirely possible she does fall into the gap.
We rate Jennings’ statement Half True.
1 million jobs
While not exactly on topic, Scott is right about the state growing 1 million jobs over his tenure.
Between December 2010 and February 2016, total nonfarm employment in Florida rose by 1,041,400. Viewed a slightly different way from his first month in office, the state still added 1,028,100 jobs from January 2011 to February 2016.
It’s a stretch for the governor to claim credit for such gains. Governors can have an impact on their state’s economy, but there are other things they don’t control that can have impacts that are at least as big if not bigger, such as fluctuations in the national and world economy, population changes, and natural disasters.
With that caveat, we rate Scott’s claim Mostly True.
Women’s health cuts
Jennings also claimed Scott "stripped women of access to public health care."
Scott signed a law this year that cuts off state funding for any clinic that provides abortions, including Planned Parenthood. We heard estimates that it will cut anywhere from $114,000 to $500,000 for Planned Parenthood, which provides other health services to low-income women.
It’s possible to wrongly assume from Jennings’ statement that Scott slashed women’s health care services broadly across the state. The cut targets abortion clinics, so it isn’t a cut for health care offices that don’t provide the procedure, such as county health departments.
There is some truth to the statement, but it’s too soon to tell exactly how the law will curtail women’s access to publicly supported health care.
We rate Jennings’ claim Half True.
Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Michael Auslen and Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm contributed.