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Some Floridians Fear Obamacare Repeal Under Trump

(Photo by Serena Hardware/WUFT News)
(Photo by Serena Hardware/WUFT News)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Sherry Riggs didn't stay awake to find out who the next president would be. Her heart literally couldn't take it.

Riggs, a 55-year-old barber, has been ordered to avoid stress after a heart attack and bypass surgery last month. Last year, she had a stent put in, paid for by insurance she purchased under President Barack Obama's health overhaul.

"If it wasn't for Obamacare, I really would be dead twice now," said Riggs, who recently divorced and has been staying at a friend's house in Fort Pierce since leaving the hospital a few weeks ago.

Now she said she's "terrified" that if President-elect Donald Trump repeals the Affordable Care Act, "I'm going to be gone."

The Obama plan has expanded coverage to about 20 million more Americans, and no state has more at stake than Florida, where more residents signed up than anywhere else.

Trump campaigned vowing to dismantle the 2010 health law as soon as he takes office. But replacing it will take time, and what a new system would look like has never been clear.

As president-elect, some features could stay, including its protection of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. The requirement to buy health insurance or pay a fine will likely go. House Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed tax credits instead as an incentive to buy insurance.

Florida has been a health care battleground: As the nation's GOP leaders fought the law in Congress and before the U.S. Supreme Court, Gov. Rick Scott refused to expand Medicaid under the law to cover roughly 700,000 additional Floridians.

Still, more than 1.7 million Floridians purchased health insurance through the federal marketplace, which enables eight in 10 people to buy a plan for less than $75 a month, according to federal health officials. The government subsidizes more than 90 percent of them. Riggs, who is self-employed, pays $37 out of pocket while the government pays her insurer $500 a month on her behalf.

The uninsured rate has dropped significantly in the Sunshine State since the law took effect, from 21 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2015. And although premiums have increased since the law took effect, federal subsidies have increased with them.

Douglas Monroe, a 39-year-old graduate assistant who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a teenager, had to buy insulin on the black market before the Affordable Care Act. For years, he couldn't afford insurance. He calls the coverage he was able to get in 2013 the best he's ever had, enabling him to pay $500 a month for insulin pumps and doctor's visits that would have cost him $35,000 a year.

Now he's covered through his university but remains concerned about a repeal. If insurers are no longer forced to cover people with pre-existing conditions, or if minimum coverage requirements are tossed out, he worries that it could affect the private market and make the coverage he needs unaffordable.

Trump's victory came just days after this year's open enrollment period began. Across the state, enrollment coordinators have been flooded with questions from consumers worried they may lose their health insurance.

Cory Brown, who oversees an enrollment non-profit in the Florida Panhandle that helped sign up 1,000 people last year, said many people are deeply concerned because they can't get insurance through their employers. "They're working families who need the Affordable Care Act just to insure their families," Brown said.

Still, enrollment groups are encouraging people to sign up, stressing that nothing has changed for now.

Erin Hoover, a 37-year-old adjunct professor at Florida State University who is nearly six months pregnant with her first child, said the health law has been a "lifesaver." Her plan has covered all the additional ultrasounds and blood tests she needs because her pregnancy is considered high-risk at her age.

The law established minimum requirements for essential coverage, including pregnancies. Previously, many insurers didn't include basic pregnancy coverage for women of child-bearing age because of the high costs.

"I'm worried that a lot of Americans won't know what they've lost until it's gone," she said.

The Associated Press is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.