Naples college student asks Florida lawmakers to extend Medicaid coverage

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster/Staff 
Geosel Robles, 19, a Naples resident, speaks in front of the Old Capitol on Tuesday about the need for state lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage. Robles has muscular dystrophy and aged out of the Medicaid program at 18 years old.

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster/Staff Geosel Robles, 19, a Naples resident, speaks in front of the Old Capitol on Tuesday about the need for state lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage. Robles has muscular dystrophy and aged out of the Medicaid program at 18 years old.

Health care reform

Health care reform

TALLAHASSEE — Geosel Robles may seem like an unlikely lobbyist, but on Tuesday the Southwest Florida college student found himself in that role.

Health-care advocates were in Tallahassee on Tuesday to ask lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage to the more than 1 million Florida residents in need.

Advocates said Tuesday the state needs to expand Medicaid coverage to guarantee that children with chronic illnesses aren’t left uninsured once they age out of the system.

“I’m here because the children of Florida need a remedy,” said Dr. Britt Stroud, a pediatric neurologist at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, part of the Lee Memorial Health System. “It’s not the kind of remedy you can get in the medicine cabinet. I’m not speaking about a certain treatment. I’m speaking about a remedy for our children who turn 18 and lose access to health care.”

Robles is one of those Floridians who has aged out of the system.

Robles, 19, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was a teenager. His treatment, including physical therapy and specialists, was covered by Medicaid. But Robles lost his Medicaid coverage when he turned 18, which means he’s seeing his physicians less frequently and hasn’t been able to go to physical therapy in about a year.

“Psychologically, I have a feeling of I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” he said.

Robles, a student at Hodges University in Southwest Florida, said he worries about what it means to not have insurance.

“(Lawmakers should) just try to extend the insurance, so we can try to go ahead and not worry about who is going to take care of me,” he said. “How do you help guys like me, who really need it?”

Sally Jackson, director of government relations for Lee Memorial, said caring for children — particularly those who age out of the system — should be at the heart of the discussion lawmakers are having about extending Medicaid coverage.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks during a press conference in Tallahassee, Fla. Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, Gov. Rick Scott announced plans to expand Medicaid coverage to roughly 900,000 more people under the federal health overhaul, a surprise decision from the vocal critic of President Barack Obama's plan. (AP Photo/Tallahassee Democrat, Bill Cotterell)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks during a press conference in Tallahassee, Fla. Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, Gov. Rick Scott announced plans to expand Medicaid coverage to roughly 900,000 more people under the federal health overhaul, a surprise decision from the vocal critic of President Barack Obama's plan. (AP Photo/Tallahassee Democrat, Bill Cotterell)

“The reality is children on Medicaid receive care and when they turn 18, they are no longer eligible for coverage,” she said. “If they have a chronic condition, if they have a disease that inhibits their ability to get insurance, of if they’re very low income and have parents who can’t afford insurance, they lose all their coverage.”

Jackson said an expansion would give Floridians a chance to get the care they need.

“They would be able to get tests that they need, they would be able to get the treatment that they need, go to the specialists they need, better manage their conditions and lead a more productive life,” she said. “And don’t we want all citizens to have the ability to have a productive life.”

Southwest Florida has a 30 percent uninsured rate, the second highest region in the state behind Miami-Dade County. There are an estimated 4 million uninsured people in the state, and expanding Medicaid, as planned under the Affordable Care Act, would provide coverage for about 1 million people.

Gov. Rick Scott, R-Naples, said he would support expanding Medicaid for three years because it would be fully paid for by the federal government. The move received push-back from Republican lawmakers, and two committees aimed at looking at the implementation of the Affordable Care Act voted down an expansion.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

An alternative is in the works.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has proposed a plan that would create a program called Healthy Florida, which would use a current state program — the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. — as a vehicle to offer private health insurance. It would target the same group of people who would otherwise be eligible for the Medicaid expansion and would rely heavily on federal money to pay for coverage.

Jackson said Lee Memorial supports Negron’s proposal, but is concerned by the lack of movement in the state House.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create this type of coverage with federal funding fully supporting the transition for three years,” Jackson said. “That’s a positive match to cover the more than one million in the state who now have to wait until they’re so sick that they have to go to the emergency department.”

Posted earlier

TALLAHASSEE – A Naples teenager called on state lawmakers Tuesday morning to extend health care coverage to the more than 1.1 million low-income, working Floridians.

Geosel Robles, 19, was in Tallahassee to speak to lawmakers about the need to expand Medicaid. Robles has muscular dystrophy and lost his Medicaid insurance at 18 years old when he aged out of the system.

Robles – who works at Chipotle Mexican Grill in the Mercato and is a student at Hodges University – said his coverage was extended for a year under the Children Medical Services program. But Robles said Tuesday it has been about a year since he's been able to attend much-needed physical therapy on a regular basis.

“I have not let my condition stop me from working, but it is a challenge. I'm on my feet a lot and I'm not always able to get the medication and therapy I need,” he said in a prepared statement. “I have huge dreams for my future. Affordable health insurance will get me one step closer and will give me the access to care I need.”

__ The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

© 2013 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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