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Plant City Observer - 2014 Forecast: U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross

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By Justin Kline

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross has been busy as of late, as one of the most vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act. Although working on a new bill has consumed much of his time, Ross wants to become closer to his Plant City constituents in 2014.

Since taking effect Jan. 1, the Affordable Care Act has been on the minds of nearly everyone in the country. One such person is U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

Ross, whose district includes parts of Polk and Hillsborough counties, has been working to come up with a different plan, one he hopes can overtake the Affordable Care Act and change the health insurance landscape again. But, now that his district has expanded to include all of Plant City, the representative has another goal in mind.

"We only had parts of Plant City last time, but now we have all of it," Ross said. "We're trying to reach out as far as we can, wherever we can."

Although this is his first time representing the entire Plant City area, Ross is no stranger to this city.

CENTRAL FLORIDA LIFER
Ross was born and raised in Lakeland and still considers that area his home when he's not in Washington, D.C.; his main office is located in South Lakeland, not too far from Mulberry. But, from a young age, he spent plenty of time in Plant City.

"As a kid, we used to go over to the Plant City Hungarian Club once a month," Ross said. "And, of course, I grew up going to the (Florida) Strawberry Festival."

It didn't take long for him to get into politics. Ross, now 54, remembers holding signs for former President Richard Nixon in 1968 and said his staff recently found a letter he had written to Nixon in 1971, offering his support for the 1972 re-election campaign.

After completing undergraduate work at Auburn University, Ross earned his law degree from Samford University's Cumberland School of Law. He returned to Florida to work with the Holland & Knight firm, had a stint with Disney and started his own firm in 1989, where he worked until his election to Congress in 2010. Ross and his wife, Cindy, were active in Polk politics in the 1990s, and he went on to represent Polk and Hillsborough from 2000 until 2008.

The last time he ran for election, not all of Plant City was included in the district. With a recent district realignment and successful campaign now in the books, Ross wants to make sure everybody knows him.

PRESENCE IN PLANT CITY
Ross' desire to have a constant presence in the community is somewhat hampered by the fact that he has to be in the Washington for three weeks of every month. To overcome this, the Ross is counting on his staff to go straight to the people.

Among his assets are the "mobile offices," which travel around the district once a month to go to people who can't make the trek to Lakeland. Anything that can be done in the main office can be done in the mobile offices. This includes assisting senior citizens with Social Security and disability issues, veterans with V.A. claims and service problems, students with financial aid issues and U.S. Service Academy entrance requirements, small-business owners in need of financial and technical assistance, taxpayers with I.R.S. problems, and local governments with certain federally relevant issues.

The next mobile office trip will include a stop from 8:45 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Jan. 14, at Plant City Hall.

Ross also hosts monthly phone town hall meetings all over the district. The next one will be held Jan. 22, in Lakeland; Hillsborough dates and locations have yet to be determined.

"We plan on traveling here as much as we can," Ross said. "Our district is fairly compact: It doesn't take more than an hour to get from one corner of the district to the other. Plant City is the geographic center of the district."

WORKING ON A CHANGE
Ross has been among the most outspoken opponents of the Affordable Care Act.

"It's the largest government intrusion into a person's life that we've seen in my history, and I'm 54 years old," Ross said. "Maybe the largest ever."

Ross' comments echo those of Americans who have disapproved of the act since its inception. He and other conservatives across the nation have blasted Obamacare for its heavy dependence on one-size-fits-all government regulations: the sale of a government-approved product at a government-approved price that has different effects for different people.

"More than 300,000 Floridians have lost the health plan they chose and liked, and the administration continues adding insult to injury with every misleading statement they make to cover up how bad this law is," Ross wrote.

Not wanting people to experience higher costs, longer waits and tougher searches for the right doctors, Ross came up with a plan of his own, called the Patient Health Care Act. Ross seeks to bring insurance regulations down to the state level. The bill would allow interstate sales, giving customers the option to purchase plans more specific to their needs. It also advocates for the coverage of pre-existing conditions and higher deductibles that can be paid for with a tax-free health savings account.

These accounts, which would be used exclusively for health care benefits, would hold up to $10,000 per family, per year. Premiums, deductibles or someone's own care could be paid for through these accounts.

There are currently no co-sponsors for Ross' bill, but his ideas are traveling through the Republican Party circuit.

According to Ross, some of the Patient Health Care Act's features have been implemented into a bill the 220-member Republican Study Committee is examining. The group has adopted the ideas of interstate sales, pre-existing condition coverage, and health savings accounts -- for children -- that are tax-free.

"We haven't had the chance to have either their bill or mine be heard in the committee yet," Ross said. "Possibly, that will be in the second quarter of 2014, after March. If we do gain control of Senate, these are some of the ideas we'll be able to show people."

Ross knows his ideas won't be well-received by everyone. He wants people to know that their voices will be heard -- and he's listening.

"We are the conduit between our constituents and the federal government," Ross said. "(People) may not always agree with the results … but we'd like to make sure they know we'll always be accessible and responsive."

Contact Justin Kline at jkline@plantcityobserver.com.


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