TALLAHASSEE — As more than 100 Planned Parenthood supporters rallied Monday outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office for increased access to health care, Tampa’s state senator lobbed a political grenade.
“We need to pass Sen. Garcia’s bill,” Democrat Arthenia Joyner told the crowd, referring to Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia’s proposal this year to cover more poor Floridians by expanding Medicaid.
“It was good enough for the speaker’s family,” she added. “By golly, it’s good enough for all of the families of Florida.”
The family of Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford did not have health insurance when he was young and relied on a form of medical assistance to pay for cancer treatments for his brother, who later died at the age of 13 months.
“If you’re sick and you don’t have access, you’re almost like a zombie,” Joyner said. “Just floating around, praying and hoping that somebody will help you get medical care. That is not the way it’s supposed to be in America.”
Despite the fiery speeches, any push for health care expansion is likely dead for this legislative session. Curiously, none of the speakers used the term “Medicaid expansion.”
House Republican leadership remains opposed and Scott is focused on tax cuts and job creation as he faces re-election in November. The governor supported expansion last year.
The federal government agreed to pay 100 percent of the first-year costs for 1.1 million newly insured Floridians and 90 percent for the subsequent three years. Florida would have received close to $51 billion over 10 years.
Weatherford has been against expanding Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor, by using federal money under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Florida is one of 25 states that has declined to participate.
After the rally, Joyner did not back down from her statement, though she said she has not discussed her concern directly with Weatherford.
A spokesman for Weatherford did not respond Monday afternoon to a request for comment.
Jenna Tosh, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, said the group opposed legislation filed this year that would restrict the availability of abortions or ban them entirely.
Lawmakers file such bills every year, though an outright ban would violate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
Sara Hutchinson, program director of Catholics for Choice, also said her group disagrees with the Vatican’s stance on birth control and abortion.
“The role of individual conscience is at the core of the Catholic faith,” Hutchinson said. Efforts to restrict access to abortion care are “… cruel attacks on women’s moral agency and their own wellbeing.”