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Crist edging away from ACA in wake of Sink loss?

By William March
Published: March 19, 2014

Is former Gov. Charlie Crist edging away from his support of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in the wake of Alex Sink’s unexpected loss in the Pinellas County congressional race?

Crist’s campaign says no, and Crist adds that he’ll be with Obama at fundraisers in South Florida Thursday.

But a comparison of a couple of his recent statements on the issue -- one immediately before the election and one after it -- raise the question of whether there’s been a change.

Sink, a Democrat backed by Crist, lost -- unexpectedly, at least to some -- in the special election March 11 to replace the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

The race focussed heavily on the ACA, with Jolly basing much of his campaign on allegations that Sink would be a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama and a supporter of the ACA. He contended the health care reform plan would harm Medicare, particularly the Medicare Advantage program that’s highly popular among Florida elderly.

Sink in fact has never been a strong supporter either of Obama or the ACA, though certainly not an opponent. Her position during the campaign was that the ACA has problems that should be fixed, but that it shouldn’t be repealed.

In an interview on State of the Union with Candy Crowley the Sunday before the March 11 vote, Crist gave an unyielding defense of the ACA. In a statement to the Tribune this week, however, he adopted a tone much like Sink’s.

Exceprts from the Crowley interview:

Crowley: Has the ACA “irreparably harmed Floridians in any way?”

Crist: “No, I think it’s been great. I know the rollout was difficult. I’m sure the president feels that way too. ... People getting health care is like a civil right. ... They need health care an they deserve it. we’re the richest country in the world. We ought it provide it and God bless him for doing it.”

Crowley: What about insurance companies cancelling or changing coverage plans that don’t conform to the ACA, and cuts to Medicare Advantage?

Crist: “I don’t think that will happen and I think that people on the other side are using that as a fear tactic and it’s wrong. … That’s why we have the Affordable Care Act, exactly why. is to make sure ... they can get health care and that it’s more affordable than what they may have had before. And that’s why I think at the end of the day it’s going to be very popular program.”

Crowley: What about Democrats backing away from the plan?

Crist: “I don’t know, they ought to strengthen up. The president’s a smart guy and he’s doing the right thing, and God bless him for it.”

And here’s the email statement when the Tribune asked Crist whether he stood by his ACA stance in the wake of the D13 vote:

“Almost 4 million Floridians are uninsured and I do not believe, like Rick Scott, that we should go back to a time when insurance companies controlled who could buy insurance and how much to cover. Rick Scott supports a plan to allow insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, place lifetime caps on coverage, and make it illegal for parents to keep young adult children covered. The law has problems and we need to fix and improve it immediately, rather than going back to a time when insurance companies made all the health care decisions, like Rick Scott wants.”

Asked whether the second statement represents a change in position, Crist campaign spokesman Kevin Cate said no -- “He’s said similar before when asked.”

There’s been debate over how much effect the Obamacare debate had on the Sink-Jolly results, with some Democrats saying it had little. Sink lost, they contend, in part because she hadn’t been a district resident until the beginning of the campaign and in part because she’s not a natural campaigner.

But Jolly also had residency issues, and his own handicap -- he’s a professional Washington lobbyist -- which Sink’s campaign exploited mercilessly.