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POINT OF VIEW State must take reins on health care, opioid crises

As national controversies continue to swirl, most Floridians I meet are focused on the issues that matter most to their family’s well-being: health care, the economy and public education.

They’re concerned about whether they will still have access to health care as they struggle to make ends meet. They keep asking me: Why isn’t health care a right? I certainly believe it is, and I believe it is fundamental to improving the lives and futures of Floridians in every corner of our state.

But thanks to Congressional Republicans’ attempts to repeal Obamacare, our health and wellness have never been more at risk. Two million Floridians could be uninsured by 2026; women stand to lose access to no-cost contraception; hundreds of thousands of people could lose their jobs; older Americans could pay 70 percent more in premiums; and devastating cuts to Medicaid could cost thousands more lives in the opioid crisis. They’ve put forward a “health care” plan that’s really a tax cut for millionaires that does nothing to make us healthier or make it easier to make ends meet.

And the effect that it will have on Florida’s deadly opioid crisis is too catastrophic to ignore. Medicaid is currently the single largest payer for addiction services in our country, yet Republicans want to cut its funding by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. This is simply unacceptable. One estimate pegged last year’s death toll in Florida from this epidemic at more than 5,300, with 590 people losing their lives in Palm Beach County. And just last week we saw an unspeakable tragedy when a fifth-grader in Miami died with the potent painkiller fentanyl in his body.

Comprehensively attacking the opioid crisis is a key part of my four-part plan to improve and protect Floridians’ health care.

For example, we are going to create a statewide task force of law enforcement, first responders, and mental health and patient advocates to address opioids at the state level. We should restore the $11 million cut in state mental health funding, create opioid intervention courts, and work with our Congressional delegation to secure more federal funding. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past in how we address this deadly drug crisis.

But that’s not the only way we must confront the challenge of health care. The Legislature should pass a law protecting people with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage, being charged more for their care due to a pre-existing condition or because they’re a woman. They should also protect women’s access to no-cost contraception, and enshrine health care as a right in our state’s constitution.

As someone who grew up sometimes getting routine health care from the emergency room, I’ve often asked myself: if I don’t have my health, what do I have? I’ve heard from people in every corner of our state that they’re asking themselves the same thing, and now more than ever.


Editor’s note: Andrew Gillum is mayor of Tallahassee and a 2018 Democratic candidate running for Florida governor.

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