An uninsured Florida woman who died last month from a treatable heart condition sparked a new kind of Obamacare horror story: the failure to expand Medicaid is killing people.
Charlene Dill, a 32-year-old mother of three, fell into what's known as the "coverage gap" — her $9,000 a year income was too much for Medicaid without Florida expanding coverage, and it was too little to get Obamacare subsidies. In his Orlando Weekly cover story "Falling Into the Gap", reporter Bill Manes makes clear who he thinks is to blame for her premature death. "Dill’s death was not unpredictable, nor was it unpreventable. She had a documented heart condition for which she took medication. But she also happened to be one of the people who fall within the gap created by the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed states to opt out of Medicaid expansion," he writes. In other words, he argues, Dill died because of Florida's Republican government and partisan politics.
Progressives are already hyping the political aspect of the Dill case. "Is Rick Scott guilty of murder?" wonders Daily Kos. "Here come the 'people who died for lack of #Medicaid expansion' stories," tweeted Bloomberg health reporter Alex Wayne. "Brace yourselves, Republicans." Ourfutures.org called the governors who opted out of expansion a GOP "death panel." Last month, Truthout wrote that "Florida Governor Rick Scott is now officially a killer, and Charlene Dill is one of his victims." Think Progress went all in with a pretty dramatic headline:
Think Progress and progressive site Raw Story cited the high end of a recent joint study between Harvard and City University of New York, in which they estimated "the number of deaths attributable to the lack of Medicaid expansion in opt-out states at between 7,115 and 17,104." That, ThinkProgress argued, works out to six deaths every single day in Florida.
While Republicans have made finding and promoting Obamacare horror stories an official campaign tactic, some find politicizing deaths like Dill's uncomfortable. David Ramsey, who covered the Arkansas legislatures' long battle to approve funds for the Medicaid expansion, argued that blaming Governor Rick Scott and the GOP is one step too far. "I can't really endorse that — the medical experience of any one individual is too specific and too complicated for a narrative that neat," Ramsey wrote for the Arkansas Times, referring to the Think Progress headline. He added that "some skepticism ... is in order" regarding the 17,000 deaths a year estimate.
"Still," he wrote, "the story is a reminder of the human beings left in a coverage gap by the states (still 23 of them) refusing the federal money to expand their Medicaid programs and offer insurance for low-income residents." Such reminders, however hyped, apparently haven't made a difference yet. Maine's Republican governor vetoed a bill to expand Medicaid for a third time on Wednesday.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.