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The Great Florida Experiment

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“The really desperate come early. George Bishop, 61, a lanky, gray-haired cabinet builder in a tropical shirt, has a red, swollen nose from a boil caused by his third sinus infection in the past five months. Diana Rios, 54, cheerful despite the arthritis pain in her back and knees, holds on tight to her purse and to her seven-year-old granddaughter and translator, Sofia. Lindsay Oliver, 28, is here because of hypothyroidism, Sjögren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disorder), anemia, chronic hives—and no insurance.

By 4 p.m. on a rainy winter afternoon, they are part of a small crowd assembled on a grassy field behind a chain-link fence outside the Palmer Feed Store in Orlando, Florida. Across the street is the county medical building, where volunteer doctors affiliated with the nonprofit group Shepherd’s Hope see uninsured patients on weekday nights. The clinic doesn’t start until 6, but it’s a first-come, first-served operation, and demand is high.

At 4:30, a security guard opens the doors to let the patients in out of the drizzle. Dozens of them soon fill rows of metal chairs in the lobby. They are anxious and ailing, but also chatty as they munch on the cookies offered up by the volunteer clinic manager. Many have multiple medical issues going wholly or partly untreated. Rios is here for “private” problems as well as back pain, arthritis in her knees, and bursitis in her shoulder that forced her to quit working in September when she could no longer lift the trays she helped prepare for an airline food company. As Sofia translates, Rios explains that she has been in Florida for 16 years but has never had health insurance. She ended up in the emergency room recently after she fell on her arm and was so immobilized that she couldn’t brush her teeth.

The raven-haired Oliver lost her job as a bank teller supervisor in July, leaving her and her three-year-old son uninsured. After months of unsuccessful job hunting, she finally signed on as a housekeeper at a Disney hotel. She’s gone without some of her expensive medications since August and is hoping the clinic can help.

Oliver, Bishop, and Rios are among the nearly 4 million Floridians who lack health insurance—more than 1 in 5 in a state with the second-highest rate of uninsured in the country. Obamacare is supposed to help fix that through a combination of new federal subsidies for private insurance as well as a generous expansion of Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor and disabled.

But the people at this clinic may not see many of these benefits, because Gov. Rick Scott and a tea-party-dominated state government have been at the forefront of the revolt against the law—and virtually every other form of government spending.

Even before he was elected in 2010, Scottspent $5 million of his own money—earned leading a health care company that derives much of its revenue from government payments—to fight Obamacare. Florida was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case challenging Obamacare, and even after the court upheld the law, Scott refused to take steps to implement it. His fellow tea partiers are urging lawmakers to do the same: At a hearing in December, activist John Knapp told state legislators, “The American Constitution which you just swore an oath to uphold and defend has been contorted, hijacked, and reduced.” ….”

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