MIAMI (AP) – Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez will cut the county’s HealthCare Planning department on October 1, which is the same day that U.S. citizens can sign up for health insurance in state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
According to its website, the Office of Countywide Healthcare Planning links residents with health program or services that best fit their needs.
A spokeswoman for Republican Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office said the department is being cut because of limited resources and that the move will save $728,000, including five staff positions.
The timing is the beginning of their fiscal year and not related to the new federal health law, spokeswoman Vanessa Santana-Peñate told The Associated Press.
She said other departments in the county will try to absorb the services, but she added it’s likely “we will have to partner with other agencies.”
The success of the law will have a major effect in Florida, home to one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country. Miami-Dade County ranks near the top of that list with more than 34 percent of uninsured residents.
The decision to cut the HealthCare Planning department comes as the pushback against so-called “Obamacare” by Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican lawmakers is reaching a fever pitch.
The Miami-Dade Democratic Party said in a statement that the decision comes just as uninsured residents could most benefit from help in navigating “Obamacare.”
“This is an irresponsible, politically motivated action designed to undermine Obamacare at all costs… (the mayor) has continually pushed for an austerity budget on the backs of our low-income and middle-class residents,” Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Annette Taddeo-Goldstein said in a statement.
The department cut is the latest in the political wrangling around the state regarding the controversial new federal health law.
Last week, the Department of Health ordered county health departments across Florida to ban counselors from conducting outreach on their property. The locations work with large numbers of uninsured and low-income residents who could benefit from the exchange.
Democrats said banning those counselors, also known as navigators, along with the HealthCare Planning department puts Miami residents at a double disadvantage.
Earlier this year, the Legislature also voted not to expand Medicaid to an estimated 1 million Floridians. Lawmakers also voted to give up its authority to negotiate cheaper rates with insurers for the first two years of the state exchange.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made her third visit to Florida in five days Tuesday in an effort to counteract the negative messages federal health officials said are coming from the Sunshine State.
“It’s unfortunate that keeping information from people seems to be something of a pattern here in the state,” she said.
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