Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson ripped his Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott Thursday for not supporting the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid expansion and then blamed Scott’s environmental policies for exacerbating red tides to the point they now menace as far north as Brevard County.

Nelson made the attacks during a roundtable discussion in Orlando with Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings and three area residents who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions, notably diabetes, Crohn’s disease, bipolar syndrome, and arthritis. They told about how expensive their medical treatments are, and how they would be lost without insurance coverage.

“That’s what I don’t understand about Rick Scott and [U.S. Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell. They are hell-bent in taking it away from people like this who desperately need health care,” Nelson said.

Nelson didn’t stop there. He ripped into Scott’s record on the environment and development control, charging that the governor’s policies and decisions have created dramatic increases in the pollutants in Florida’s waterways, which in turn are expanding the occasional natural problem of red tide into a nearly-statewide disaster along the coasts.

Scott’s campaign responded by pointing out that Scott has said repeatedly he wants pre-existing conditions covered in any health care plan, and that Nelson was making misleading statements about Scott’s environmental record, the nature of red tides, and Scott’s response to them. Scott’s campaign also called him out for not spending more time dealing with Hurricane Michael recovery, as Scott is doing.

But Nelson laid out harsh attacks, with some detail, to back up his assertions.

“I was in Vero Beach yesterday. Dead fish. People with surgical masks on the beach. People hacking and wheezing on the beach. And businesses are getting hurt. Today, that red tide is off of Melbourne. And the same thing has happened,” Nelson said.

“Why? For eight years, Rick Scott has systematically dismantled the environmental regulatory agencies. He has passed the law that eliminates the periodic inspections of leaking septic tanks. He has starved the water management disticts of money. And he has abolished the growth management agency, the Department of Community Affairs. When you do all those things, you see the results,” Nelson charged.

“When you add pollution to the fresh waterways of Florida, you’re going to get algae. … And that is the legacy of Rick Scott,” he concluded.

Yet he and Demings mainly pounded Scott over his and the Republican Party’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare; Scott’s refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion included in that act that would have provided federal money to cover an estimated 800,000; and Scott’s support for a federal lawsuit that would eliminate the mandate that states require insurance plans to not discriminate against clients with pre-existing health problems.

“Yesterday Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said, in the new Congress, he said ‘We’re gong to go back and we’re going to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act. For people this is a matter of life or death. For other people this is a matter of whether they have health care or not. And we have three of those people right here.”

Added Demings, “When people do not have access to health care, they get sicker, or they die.”

“Gov. Scott has made it crystal clear that protecting people with pre-existing conditions is a crucial and necessary part of any healthcare reform,” said Scott’s campaign spokesman Chris Hartline. “Maybe if Sen. Nelson spent more time working to fix our broken healthcare system than he does spreading misleading information, this conversation wouldn’t even be happening. It’s sad that instead of helping Florida’s Panhandle recover from Hurricane Michael, Senator Nelson has chosen to spread falsehoods about Gov. Scott’s record.

As for the red tide criticism, Hartline responded, “These are more misleading and desperate claims from Bill Nelson. Under the Governor’s leadership, Florida passed major legislation to ensure the public is made aware within 24 hours of the release of any harmful substance. Not exactly what I would call “relaxed environmental regulations.”

“Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency due to the impacts of red tide in August – and since then he has continued to take real action, like securing millions of dollars to help impacted communities,” Hartline added. “Additionally, red tide is naturally occurring – and even scientists at Mote Marine Lab have called out the absurdity of blaming Gov. Scott for this natural phenomenon.”

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