Florida Democratic Senate leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale has found himself in unfamiliar territory lately: agreeing with Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
"Medicaid expansion, Obamacare, teacher raises. Who is this guy?" Smith tweeted on Feb. 21 in response to Scott’s announcements that he would support Medicaid expansion and raises for teachers.
Flash forward to March 5, when Scott gave his annual State of the State address. The former state budget slayer and foe of Obamacare gave a speech in which he called for helping the poor, the disabled and teachers.
So how does a Democratic leader -- whose role is to attack the Republican Scott -- respond? By telling voters that while the Democrats believe Scott is now on the right track in some areas, the state still has far to go to help the middle class and the poor.
Smith’s speech criticized Scott’s past education funding record and called for Scott to give state workers a raise, protect the environment and undo past changes to Florida elections law that contributed to long lines in November.
Smith also called on Scott to work with the Legislature to ensure that it supports Medicaid expansion, despite opposition in the House. Scott announced his support for the expansion in February, but has said it isn’t one of his top priorities. Expanding Medicaid would give health care coverage to more of the poorest Floridians. Currently, the program is restricted to children, the elderly, the disabled and pregnant women.
"We ask for you to provide true leadership, work with the Legislature and make sure that the House goes on with our Medicaid expansion. We are second in the nation in the uninsured. We need to make sure we expand Medicaid and use the federal dollars that will help our state budget," Smith said.
Is Florida No. 2 in the nation for uninsured?
Research ranking the number of uninsured
We found there are a couple of different ways to account for the uninsured among the states.
A spokeswoman for Smith cited an August 2012 article in the Huffington Post that ranked Florida at No. 2 in its share of uninsured residents based on 2010 U.S. Census data. Texas came in first with 26.3 percent, followed by Florida at 25.3 percent, and Nevada at 25.1 percent.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation keeps track of state health facts and also draws on research from the U.S. Census Bureau. Kaiser examines state populations up to age 64, since people who are 65 and older can get Medicare.
By that ranking, the states with the highest percentages of uninsured in 2010-11 were Texas (27 percent) followed by Nevada (25 percent). For third, Kaiser showed a tie between New Mexico and Florida, but Florida was a pinch higher at 24.18 percent compared with 23.85 percent for New Mexico.
When looking at only the sheer number of uninsured under the age of 65, Florida was third place with 3.7 million, behind California (7.1 million) and Texas (6.1 million).
Finally, the polling organization Gallup interviews residents nationwide about their insurance. A 2011 Gallup poll placed Florida in third for its percentage of uninsured, at 22.9 percent, behind Texas (27.6 percent) and Mississippi (23.5 percent).
Why Florida’s rate is so high
Smith’s claim about Florida’s high uninsured rate raises questions about why it is so high. John Rother, President and CEO, of the National Coalition on Health Care, which supports health care reform, sent us a list of seven reasons:
• The state has many small and low-wage employers who do not offer insurance.
• Florida has many seasonal workers who tend to be uninsured.
• Florida attracts many pre-Medicare retirees who have lost their workplace coverage but are not yet old enough for Medicare.
• Many with pre-existing conditions cannot get coverage.
• South Florida is an especially high-cost area in terms of medical claims.
• The state has relatively weak and underfunded safety net programs for the uninsured.
• Immigrants have a particularly hard time obtaining insurance due to paperwork requirements.
Sen. Chris Smith said "We are second in nation in the uninsured."
There are different ways to measure the uninsured. In terms of sheer numbers, Florida is third.
We found the most useful measure is to count Floridians under the age of 65, which includes only those not eligible for Medicare. That measure shows the state in third place in the percentage of uninsured, after first place Texas and second place Nevada.
Smith is slightly off on his numbers, but his point is on solid ground. We rate this claim Mostly True.