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The Tampa Tribune: Mayors: Legislature should extend health care coverage to the uninsured

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


The Tampa Bay area is a great place to live. Excellent schools, a variety of career opportunities, a beautiful environment, safe neighborhoods and quality health care are just a few benefits of our communities.

Another hallmark of great communities is their desire to continue to improve.

As community leaders, we are aware of the many challenges local governments, businesses and residents face. Unfortunately, health care coverage remains out of reach for many working citizens, and we are working together to fix this divide.

We recently joined with business and health care leaders at the “Cover the Bay” 2015 Bay Area Mayors Conference to discuss a collaborative approach to extending health care coverage to more uninsured Florida residents because health care access is not an issue unique to the Tampa Bay area.

Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured citizens in the country. Nearly a quarter of Hillsborough and Pinellas residents are living and working without health care coverage. In 2013, the total cost of providing care for uninsured Floridians was nearly $3 billion. This translates into a “hidden tax” of $1,200 per year on health insurance premiums for a family of four.

A lack of health care coverage negatively impacts businesses, too. Employers striving to provide health insurance for employees have seen their premiums rise every year. Some Florida businesses may also be facing financial penalties if they are not able to provide health insurance to their full-time employees and their dependents. That could end up costing Florida businesses $253 million this year.

Thankfully, there is a solution that can bridge this health care divide, avoid these hefty monetary burdens, and provide critical health care to the uninsured. As local leaders, we routinely partner with state and county governments to accept funding, including from the federal government, for a variety of initiatives, such as economic development projects, road construction, housing subsidies and enhancements for law enforcement.

We can similarly address the urgent need in our communities by using available federal funds to extend health coverage to working but uninsured citizens.

Access to affordable health care is essential to a vibrant community.

In order to continue to better the quality of life for our residents, strengthen our businesses and compete on a global scale, we have to solve the disparity in coverage.

As mayors and citizens of communities in the Tampa Bay area, we urge the Florida Legislature to use available funds to extend health care coverage to the nearly 1 million Floridians who are without it.

This would not only work to provide important care for working families, but it also ensures the health of our businesses and communities and of those throughout the state.

Bob Buckhorn is mayor of Tampa. Rick Kriseman is mayor of St. Petersburg, and George Cretekos is the mayor of Clearwater.

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