On Monday, August 12, Marco Rubio made a homecoming to Gainesville, where he attended Santa Fe College and graduated from the University of Florida.
As he talked with local business leaders about health care in a forum hosted by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Republican senator demonstrated the savvy and charm that make him a contender for the 2016 presidential nomination.
He brought with him a sense of urgency about repealing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. “I don’t think it can be fixed in this political environment,” he said. “We need to undo it.”
Rubio has joined Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky at the forefront of a drive to shut down the government in October unless Obamacare is defunded.
Rubio showed genuine interest in the impact the health care act is having on local businesses.
Freddie Wehbe, owner of the Gator Domino’s franchise, said his 200 employees will be hurt if he has to cut back work for some of them to keep them under 30 hours a week—the threshold for health insurance being required under the Affordable Care Act.
“That’s not enough hours for people,” he said. “It’s not right.”
Greg Johnson, owner of Quality Cleaners, said that although he has fewer than 50 employees—exempting him from Obamacare—the act is affecting his businesses. “It’s sowing the seeds of doubt in my customers,” he said. “They’re holding back on discretionary spending, which includes dry cleaning.”
Joel Islam, president of Florida Food Service, said his company already provides full health insurance to its 75 employees, and the health care law won’t impact it.
Rubio held in-depth discussions with one leader in medical insurance and one leader of a medical practice.
The insurance leader was Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of SantaFe HealthCare and AvMed Health Plans.
Change in health care funding is needed, he said. Low reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid add $1,700 a year to the premiums on each family health insurance plan, he said.
“The bill has some good elements and some bad elements,” he said. “We need to fix the bad elements.”
Rubio countered by saying that the political environment in Washington makes it impossible to fix the bill and that repeal was the best option under the circumstances.
Dr. Marvin Dewar, CEO and senior associate dean of UF Health Physicians, noted that 50,000 of the 700,000 visits to the medical group annually are by people without medical coverage. “The uninsured are adding 14 to 16 percent to the cost of health insurance premiums,” he said.
The Florida Legislature was short-sighted in failing to approve the state’s participation in the expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, Dewar said. The expansion would have provided health care coverage for 1 million of the state’s 4 million uninsured.
“Most of the money for the expansion would have come from the federal government,” he said. “We would have leveraged federal dollars 16 to one. Floridians are paying taxes for this money, but the benefits are going to other states.”
On a lighthearted note, Rubio said he met with Florida Gator Coach Will Muschamp while in town, and he offered a prediction on the upcoming game between Florida and Miami that will be held in Miami. “I predict there will be more Florida fans than Miami fans in the stands,” he said.
Rubio and Gallagher
Sen. Marco Rubio and Michael Gallagher of SantaFe HealthCare and AvMed Health Plans discuss health care.