A victim of the right's war on Obamacare?
- 14 April 2014
Some liberal bloggers claim to have found the face of expanding health care reform to the poor. Her name is - or was - Charlene Dill.
Ms Dill, a 32-year-old Florida mother of three with a history of heart problems, collapsed and died in a stranger's house while working as a vacuum cleaner salesman - one of her three part-time jobs.
Ms Dill had stopped taking prescription medication for her condition after she no longer qualified for Medicaid - the government health-care programme for the poor - because her yearly income of $9,000 was above the maximum amount to qualify for coverage.
On March 21, Ms Dill - who was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Florida when she was 18, estranged from her husband and on her own raising children ages 3, 7 and 9 - passed away. And now the painful question: Was her death preventable? Those who have spread word of her story argue that it was.
You see, Ms Dill would have been covered by Medicaid if Florida had taking advantage of federal funding to expand the programme under the Affordable Care Act.
Congress had intended for the expansion to be mandatory, but in 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that states could choose to opt out - and 21 states, thanks largely to Republican efforts, have done so. In those states, there is a gap in coverage for those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to receive insurance subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act - a gap into which an estimated 5 million Americans fall.
Ms Dill was one of those Americans, and a number of left-wing writers argue that her death is at Republicans' feet.
"Dill's death was not unpredictable, nor was it unpreventable," writes the Orlando Weekly's Billy Manes, who first publicised the story.
Truthout's Thom Hartmann agrees.
"Florida Governor Rick Scott is now officially a killer, and Charlene Dill is one of his victims," he writes. He accuses Republicans of playing politics with people's lives and sacrificing Dill in the interest of scoring political points.
"Republicans say that they're pro-life, but that's a bald-faced lie, because they refuse to let low-wage working Americans have access to life-saving Medicaid," he writes. "If Rick Scott and his Republican buddies in the Florida legislature are really the Christians they claim they are, then they're going to burn in hell. Deservedly."
Female-driven network Women on the Move published an emotional letter from Dill's best friend, Kathleen Voss Woolrich, in which she urges voters to remember her friend when heading to the polls:
You see the main argument Republicans use is that it's some lazy person who needs Medicaid expansion. That those of us living without healthcare or dental care are lazy. But my friend a single beautiful mother worked three jobs. She paid taxes. She paid her house taxes. And now she's dead.
US Representative Alan Grayson writes inthe Tampa Bay Times that Ms Dill's story should be a turning point. The Democrat urges lawmakers to ditch the strategy of saving face in favour of saving lives.
"To Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee, on behalf of all of Florida, I have one request of you: Choose life. Expand Medicaid. Take the money. And spare 1 million Floridians from suffering, from sickness and from death," he writes.
The New Republic's Brian Beutler writes that while it's impossible to prove without any doubt that Ms Dill would have lived if she had been able to enroll in an expanded Medicaid, Democrats can point to her death as a stark illustration of the consequences of the healthcare gap:
People either qualify for Medicaid or they don't. They either qualify for premium tax credits or they don't. Either they're insured when disaster strikes or they're not. It's completely uncontroversial to argue that Dill would have had a more fighting chance at survival if Florida Republicans hadn't refused the expansion against state interest.
This is all too much for Mediaite's Noah Rothman, who says the rush from liberals to tout Ms Dill's story is a sign of "panic" at their party's prospects in this November's midterm congressional elections.
Ms Dill's tragic death and her family's loss is hard enough without turning her tragedy into a political football to be eagerly run up the field by an increasingly desperate base of Democratic partisans and their ethically challenged accomplices in the Congress. The facts associated with Medicaid expansion suggest, at the very least, that it is impossible to directly link Ms Dill's death to Florida's decision not to expand Medicaid. But that will not stop the president's allies in the press from adopting even the most base and immoral tactics in the attempt to stave off disaster in November.
Whether it's moral to do so or not, Beutler doesn't think Democrats are likely to capitalise on the story.
While easily debunked Obamacare horror stories flood social media, he says that liberals are often reluctant to play a similar game.
"That cautiousness simultaneously reflects the left's greatest political strength and weakness: its relatively healthy epistemological standards, and its at-times lamentable unwillingness to seize its own political advantage," writes Beutler.
(Kierran Petersen contributed to this story.)