TAMPA, Fla. — Democrats across the nation say they won back the House of Representatives in 2018 in large part by running on health care. It's likely they'll continue that messaging in 2020.

That’s why Florida Democratic Chair Terrie Rizzo was in West Tampa on Thursday morning, kicking off the party’s two-day “Fight for Health Care I-4 Corridor Tour."

  • Panelists at event focused on Trump administration working to repeal Affordable Care Act
  • Discussion also touched on lack of Medicare expansion in Florida
  • More Elections 2020 stories

The event was announced last week, before concerns about the coronavirus outbreak became so widespread that a series of national (and international) public events were canceled, including what would have been Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden’s first appearance this election cycle in Tampa.

“When Donald Trump was elected, he promised accessible health care for everybody,” Rizzo said. “Well, he’s been in office for three years, pushing health care policies that range from ineffective to destructive.”

The top issue that Rizzo and her fellow panelists wanted to hone in on is the administration’s battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced last week that it will decide the fate of the ACA in their next term, probably after the November election.  That high court had earlier rejected a request to expedite the case so that it could be heard this term, which ends in June.

While the president has been unrelenting in pushing to repeal the ACA, the signature domestic achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency, he has maintained consistently that he would ensure that insurers won’t be allowed to discriminate against people with pre-existing health conditions.

Rizzo says that’s untrue.

“They’ve been saying this all along, and what have they come up with to replace it? Zero. It’s the kind of thing they talk a lot about, and just [say] ‘trust us’ but so far nothing,” Rizzo told reporters after the discussion. “It is seriously at risk, and there are millions and millions of Americans and Floridians we know with pre-existing conditions who have no guarantee of coverage.”

Other members of the panel blasted the Florida Legislature for failing to expand Medicaid.

Cramer Verde, the interim president of the Hispanic Caucus of Florida, said he had a family member living in Massachusetts who was ill with cancer. He said he was “happy” that she was ill there and not in Florida — Massachusetts has an uninsured rate of just 2.8 percent, according to U.S. Census data while Florida’s is 9.5 percent.

“Because if she was going to get sick in Florida, she was either going to go bankrupt or maybe not afford the care that she needed, and I didn’t know what was going to be the end of it,” he said, questioning why some states have expanded health care coverage following the passage of the ACA while others have not. (36 states have expanded Medicaid, and Kansas might be the next).

The president's handling of the coronavirus was only mentioned briefly in passing by Rizzo, who said that he had initially claimed it was "a hoax." Trump has denied that, saying he was referring to criticism of his administration’s response to it was a hoax.  

When asked for comment about the event, Trump Victory spokesperson Emma Vaughn said that "Democrats are willing to expose Floridians for political gain. This is disgusting and unsafe."

After the event, Rizzo said that she is assessing if the Florida Democratic Party will continue to allow their members to canvass voters as concerns about the threat of COVID-19 persist.

“We’re in constant touch with our people in the field and we’re addressing everybody to be safe and careful in what they’re doing,” she said.

Rizzo added that she wasn’t worried about how the virus could affect voting for the March 17 primary, saying many people have already voted by mail or at the polls in early voting.

“We already have high turnout,” she added.

As of Thursday morning, 797,313 Democrats had voted by mail or at early voting sites. In comparison, a total of 767,622 Republicans had voted early or by mail.