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Health Reform Law Remains a Hot Topic in Florida

April 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As part the Spotlight City series from Tampa, Betty Ann Bowser reports on the public reaction to the new health care reform law and why it's still being debated in Florida.
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GWEN IFILL: Now we continue our spotlight series here in Florida focusing on health care.

“NewsHour” health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser begins by introducing us to four individuals who have been watching the debate closely.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Florida ranks second in the nation in the number of people on Medicare, with just about three million enrollees.

But Americans of all ages are eternally drawn to the Sunshine State for its casual way of living. Older Americans may come to Sun City Center, 25 miles south of Tampa. Life’s easy here: lie by the pool, take in a leisurely came of bridge or canasta.

Dee and John Williams moved down for their golden years, which they now see threatened by the new health care law.

DEE WILLIAMS, retiree: Solve the problem that exists, but leave the rest of us alone.

Thirty-seven-year-old allergist Dr. Mona Vishin Mangat thinks the new law will solve insurance problems for millions of Americans.

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT, physician: It’s going to make health care affordable. It’s going to make it so that, I think, you know, upwards of 94 percent of the population will be covered.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Orlando small company owner Jerry Pierce worries the new law will harm his business.

JERRY PIERCE, small business owner: I think that, reading the law, reading what was signed on that bill, I would say we’re headed into huge, huge bureaucratic problems.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And 58-year-old Ronni Drimmer hopes the new law will make it easier for her to find reasonably priced insurance, even with her preexisting condition.

RONNI DRIMMER, self-employed: I hate paying this bill. I mean, it’s way too much money. It’s very stressful for me.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: These are just a sampling of the millions of Floridians who have vested interest in the new health care reform law and a range of opinions, from high hopes to predictions of doom.

A typical morning at the Williams’ household in Sun City Center can be defined by a warm cup of coffee and a morning newspaper. By mid-morning, 81-year-old Dee and her 80-year-old disabled husband, John, are usually out and about, many mornings heading to the rec center for a workout.

John suffered a fall a few years ago that left him with a brain injury and limited mobility.

DEE WILLIAMS: Yes, he learned everything from scratch, talking, eating.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Since then, it’s been one medical crisis after another, three heart bypass surgeries and a pacemaker, all paid for by Medicare and their supplemental insurance.

And even though there is nothing in the law that calls for establishing panels that will decide which seniors get health care and which ones don’t, Dee believes that will happen.

DEE WILLIAMS: Well, they talk about it on talk radio every day, that there will be a committee that will decide — for some of us older ones that have these huge health problems, they’re going to look at the actuarial tables. Is he going to — is he or she going to live long enough to justify this cost?

PROTESTER: How can we be expected to support or to vote against a bill that we have never been shown?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Last year, Dee joined the Tea Party movement and went to Washington, along with thousands of others, to protest health care overhaul efforts.

DEE WILLIAMS: I believe the way they do. And I want less government. I want less spending. I want less taxes. And I want more freedom.

Hello.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Saint Petersburg allergist Dr. Mona Vishin Mangat couldn’t feel more differently. She’s a member of Doctors For America, a grassroots group that lobbied for a single-payer system during the health care debate.

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT: I’m extremely pleased with the bill. I think it’s a very good bill. Obviously, it could be better, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. It really gets us a lot closer to insuring more Americans. It gets us closer to having — you know, stopping insurance companies from these malicious practices that I just think were very arbitrary.

WOMAN: But this one strictly is for fetus. So, you have — you can’t do that for a child, right?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Three years ago, Dr. Mangat opened her private practice, thinking she would have quality time with her patients. But insurance company mandates and paperwork are taking up too much of her time.

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT: Let’s take, for example, a new patient that will come to my office. So, that patient will call and say, “I have Aetna.”

So, that sets a whole series of things into motion. Not only does she first have to find out if that insurance is active. She has to find out, is there a preexisting clause in that insurance? So, each step requires — each patient requires a phone call, where you sit on hold for, you know, probably 30, 40 minutes trying to get the information. So, then I see the patient, and then I’m restricted in how I treat them.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: She says it’s frustrating that she can’t afford to offer health insurance to her three employees, one of whom has a preexisting condition.

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT: It’s extremely frustrating, and basically that — you know, I tried to do that. I tried to give it to them. But the options were unaffordable.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Seventy-five miles away, in Orlando, Jerry Pierce thinks it’s government paperwork and bureaucracy that are going to harm his business. The restaurant supply company he owns has recently grown into a worldwide Internet company, with 50,000 customers in 100 countries.

Currently, health insurance takes up 10 percent of his $1 million-a-year payroll. But he says he faces a growing problem trying to find affordable coverage, because of what he sees as the lack of competition among insurance companies. Florida is one of those states that has a limited number of insurers in the marketplace.

JERRY PIERCE: It’s very non-competitive when you have approximately five insurance companies that provide the insurance, a major part of the insurance in the state of Florida, and you have roughly over 400,000 small companies. There’s very little negotiating power that 400,000 small businesses have to shop for insurance against five insurance companies. It just doesn’t work.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The new law does provide tax credits to small businesses with less than 50 employees. But Pierce doesn’t think that will outweigh what he sees as the downside of the law.

JERRY PIERCE: The amount of bureaucracy in the first few paragraphs that I have read of this new bill that has just been signed into law is absolutely incredible. It’s off the charts.

I encourage everybody to read it, because it’s — it’s — it’s unbelievable, the amount of bureaucracy and checking and rules and regulations for every level of our society.

Ronni Drimmer spends more than $700 a month on health insurance. In 2007, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Crohn’s disease that, in most states, would have made her uninsurable. But the state of Florida requires insurance companies to offer coverage to self-employed residents, even with preexisting conditions. So, she has insurance. However, she believes the insurance company is trying to price her out of the market.

RONNI DRIMMER: Every year, it goes up, and I would say, on average, 20 percent or more. I mean, I get less and less, you know, choices. I — I can’t just switch to another insurance company.

I can’t get insurance as an individual at all. You know, I have preexisting conditions. Forget about it. There is no insurance for me.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: After several of Drimmer’s business ventures failed, she began to earn money by caring for seniors, which provides an income around $30,000 a year. She worries all the time about what’s going to happen to her health care if something goes wrong.

RONNI DRIMMER: It’s very upsetting. But, you know, what am I going to do? I have to deal with it. I don’t know. But it does. It stresses me out a lot.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Drimmer says she actually voted for President Obama solely on his plan to reform health care. She wanted the bill to go further.

RONNI DRIMMER: You know, I’m not a genius, but I don’t see where the competition is going to be to, you know, to control the cost. You know, I thought the public option made sense. I was all for the public option.

I would have liked to have seen something better set up for people like me sooner than 2014. I don’t — I don’t feel secure about the whole bill.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: So, like a lot of Americans, these four Floridians are waiting and wondering what will happen in 2014 when the major portions of the bill will kick in.