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Deadly Obstructionism: 32 Year Old Florida Woman Dies Thanks To Republicans’ Refusal To Expand Medicaid

The late Charlene Dill, with one of her three children, before her untimely death last month.

The late Charlene Dill, with one of her three children, before her untimely death last month.

Thirty-two year-old Charlene Dill, a single-mother of three young children and a resident of Florida for almost 15 years, knows what it’s like to be an uninsured American. Separated from her husband, and with a combination of part-time jobs, Dill was barely scraping by. She couldn’t afford a divorce yet, so she wasn’t eligible for Medicaid coverage because the program took her estranged husband’s income into account. So even though Dill’s income of $9000 is below the federal poverty level, she found herself in the ‘coverage gap’ along with an estimated 5-6 million other Americans. Dill wasn’t eligible for Medicaid because her income was “too high”, but she made too little to qualify for a subsidy to help her pay for health insurance.

And that was a problem, because Charlene Dill had a heart condition that could be managed with medication — which she couldn’t afford without Medicaid. And so, on March 21, Charlene Dill died of heart failure while demonstrating a vacuum cleaner for a potential client at a home in Kissimmee, Florida.

Her death resulted from a documented heart condition, and it could have — should have — been prevented. Dill was uninsured, and for years she went without the care she needed because she couldn’t afford it.

Under the Affordable Care Act, which was designed to expand coverage to millions of low-income Americans, Dill wasn’t supposed to lack insurance. She was supposed to gain access to a public health insurance plan through the law’s expansion of the Medicaid program. But Dill, a Florida resident, is one of the millions of Americans living in a state that has refused to accept the ACA’s Medicaid expansion after the Supreme Court ruled this provision to be optional.

She would have been covered by Medicaid if Florida had agreed to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act, but Gov. Rick Scott has thus far refused the expansion. And thanks to Gov. Scott, Charlene Dill was one of the 750,000 low-income Floridians stuck in the coverage gap.

She’s one of the 17,000 people who will die prematurely because of Republicans’ Medicaid refusal. She’s one of as many as six deaths a day that could be prevented in Florida if Gov. Rick Scott and the Republicans in the legislature stopped playing politics and started looking out for the interests of their constituents.

Fifty-eight percent of Florida voters want the Medicaid expansion in their state. That percentage would likely increase, a lot, if Dill’s story and the stories of the thousands unnecessary deaths in the state get the attention they deserve.

We should be outraged at this. Charlene Dill didn’t have to die, and neither do the 17,000 other Americans who will die in a systematic sacrifice conspired by Republicans.

Across the country, Republicans are actively engaged in efforts that will lead to greater numbers of uninsured Americans, which will inevitably lead to more sickness and death. While conservatives like to point to economic explanations for their opposition to health care reform, Medicaid/Medicare, and other government programs aimed at increasing access to coverage, the truth is that this is not an economic decision. It’s not even a political decision. It’s a question of priorities, of values, and of morals. It’s a question for which the answer cannot be found in conservative credo or fiscal doctrine.

I’m not positing that the economic implications don’t matter, because they do. But it’s completely dishonest for Republicans to say that their antipathy to health care reform is rooted in genuine concerns about fiscal matters. When conservatives claim that government spending is “out of control” and that the only way to get back on track is to dismantle the social safety net, this is simply untrue. We have enough money, as a nation, to ensure that every American has health insurance (and to provide children with high quality education, to put food on the table of every American household, and to take care of our elderly and disabled citizens, as well as our Veterans). That’s not the question. If we stopped giving subsidies to multi-billion dollar corporations, put an end to tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and closed the policy loopholes that allow our nation’s top earners to avoid giving anything back to the country that has given so much to them, we would have more than enough money to invest in the health and wellbeing of each and every American.

The question is not, ‘where will the money come from?’ We already know the answer to that question, but Republicans don’t like to think about it because it undermines their entire premise for opposing any and all spending on social programs. The real question is, ‘where should we spend the money?’ Because we’re already spending it — but right now, Republicans are prioritizing corporate subsidies and tax cuts for the rich over providing health care to our fellow Americans.

At its core, this is an issue of priorities.

Will Republicans, and will we as a nation, commit to ensuring that our neediest citizens have access to health coverage, or not? And how many more people will die as a result of the willful negligence on the part of conservative politicians?

Charlene Dill didn’t have to die. Her death was not unpredictable, nor was it unpreventable — but apparently, for Gov. Rick Scott and the other Republican governors refusing to expand Medicaid, Dill’s life just wasn’t a priority.


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