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For Tea Party Activists In Florida, The Health Care Battle Goes On

President Obama's re-election sent a message to state capitals: The war over the president's health care overhaul is finished.

Even in Florida, where Republican leaders led the legal battle against Obamacare, there's recognition now that the state has to act fast to comply with the new law.

Florida's governor, Rick Scott, is a former hospital executive who got into politics to fight the health care overhaul. While Obamacare was still in the courts, Scott said he didn't yet consider it the "law of the land." Even after it was upheld by the Supreme Court, the governor refused to implement the law, waiting for the election.

After Nov. 6, however, Scott had a change in tone.

"Gov. [Mitt] Romney did not win the election. So, it's not an option to repeal Obamacare," he said. "So, my goal now is to focus on what's good for our citizens."

But Republicans are having trouble convincing Tea Party activists that the fight is over.

Florida is one of several states that haven't decided yet whether to create their own health care exchanges or give that job to the federal government.

Florida also will have to decide whether to take part in one aspect of the Affordable Care Act that the Supreme Court says is optional — expanding Medicaid to include millions of uninsured Floridians.

More than 2 1/2 years after the act was signed into law, a special committee of state senators met this week in Tallahassee to finally begin considering those questions.

Democratic Sen. Eleanor Sobel asked the law's opponents to remember that with the third-highest number of uninsured residents in the nation, Florida stands to gain a lot from Obamacare.

"We need to adjust our attitudes so we make sure that everybody has health insurance and a health care policy that's affordable and accessible," she said.

But while Republicans on the Senate committee showed a willingness to adjust their attitudes and get on with the law, many attending the hearing did not.

The Rev. James Hall of the Baptist Coalition of North Florida called on the senators to reject what he called an unlawful federal mandate. "This law is clearly a violation of the Constitution and states' rights," he said. "And James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton say that such a law is not valid."

Dozens of Tea Party members from across the state were there. One after another, conservative opponents called on legislators to reject Obamacare on the grounds that it's unconstitutional.

KrisAnne Hall, a constitutional attorney, warned the committee that if it doesn't act, many Floridians are prepared to do so. "If you do not stand now, what will you do to protect your citizens when they lawfully and constitutionally stand and say, 'We will not comply'?" she asked.

It was a lively and emotional episode at the end of what had been a dry, policy-heavy hearing. But after listening to several speakers, Sen. Chris Smith, a Democrat, spoke up.

"It's hard to sit here and be silent and listen to some of this," he said.

Smith, an African-American, talked about the civil rights struggle and other times when the federal government had to step in to enforce laws over objections from the states.

"The federal government had to step in because our Constitution is an imperfect document," he said, followed by a chorus of boos from Tea Party members in the audience.

"If it was perfect, you would not have amendments to it," Smith added.

Afterward, the head of the special Senate committee, Republican Joe Negron, was asked about the audience's heated opposition to the law.

"I didn't hear hate; I heard passion," he said. "Citizens care deeply about their health care and about the future of their health care in Florida. And they're passionate about their points of view."

Scott has asked for a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to help Florida determine how to proceed. The deadline for states to decide whether they want to create their own health care exchanges is next week.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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