POINCIANA – A political decision by Florida’s Republican lawmakers to take a stand against ObamaCare has cost Poinciana a federal grant that would have financed the construction of three new buildings at the Poinciana Health Care Clinic on Doverplum Avenue.
“How can the state turn down federal funding,” said Jeanette Coughenour, manager of the Association of Poinciana Villages, the community’s homeowner’s association. “That’s kind of crazy. We need that so badly.”
The Poinciana Health Care Clinic, located right next to the Poinciana Public Library, recently celebrated the official opening of a new, 16,000 square feet facility. The construction work had been financed through a grant from the federal Health Resource Services Administration program, and the new building replaced two aging modular units. Moving into the new building enabled the clinic to introduce a dental plan.
The clinic also won a federal grant to construct three new buildings on the property, and work had already started getting the land ready.
But now the grant has been rejected, said state Rep. Mike Horner, R-St. Cloud, whose district includes parts of Poinciana. He said lawmakers in the Florida House of Representatives did not want to accept any federal funding from the Obama administration’s health care law, so the entire funding package got rejected.
“Those dollars flowed through ObamaCare,” Horner said. “It was the House’s position not to accept any dollars from the federal health care mandate, so we did not accept those federal dollars.”
Horner said it was a principled vote to demonstrate opposition to the Obama health care law, which includes a mandate for individuals who now lack health insurance to buy a plan or face federal fines.
Horner added there was no way to separate the grant financing the construction work at the Poinciana Health Care Clinic from the rest of the federal health care funds — even though he supports construction of those new buildings.
“It’s my hope that the grant can be available again next year, and we can re-apply for it,” Horner said.
The loss of the federal grant comes at a time when the Poinciana Health Care Clinic is struggling to cover the rising number of patients going there who are uninsured. The clinic now juggles a variety of funding sources — federal, state and Osceola County aid, state and federal grants, reimbursements from the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and coverage from private insurers – to meet those needs.
But the money from those sources has started to shrink, while the number of uninsured seeking treatment has grown considerably. The Florida Legislature was also forced to cut $3 billion from the state budget this year, as tax revenues continue to decline in the face of a weak economy, and health care funding didn’t get spared. The clinic has already laid off several employees in response to state budget cuts.
Coughenour said it’s disappointing that the federal grant would be rejected when Poinciana needs more health care facilities, not less.
“ It’s just so necessary,” she said. “Based on our ranking — our number of uninsured residents, our lack of health care access, our high unemployment — this is another nail as far our residents are concerned,” she said.
Keith Laytham, a member of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change – a group of Poinciana residents working to improve the community – agreed this was a serious blow to the community that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties, and has more than 70,000 residents — larger than some cities.
“The clinic was looking to get a federal grant to fund that construction, and that grant got cancelled,” Laytham said. “The Florida Legislature, because it included Obama health care money, decided they didn’t want to take responsibility for approving it. The Poinciana piece of it was $3.5 million.”
The money would have been well used, he said, for expanding the clinic and making it more accessible to local patients needing health coverage.
“My understanding was they were going to put a second floor on the building and increase the scope of the number of patients they could handle,” he said. “I think it’s a real kick in the teeth to the community, this loss.”
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