TAMPA — Wesley Maiyo walked out of a conference room at St. Joseph's Hospital Saturday with a big smile on his face.
The 61-year-old recent retiree had received some good news. He would soon have health insurance again.
"I'm paying out of pocket right now and 50 percent of my money goes toward medical bills," Maiyo said. "I can't wait for January to be here."
Maiyo was one of about two dozen people Saturday who met with navigators at an Affordable Care Act information and enrollment event held by the Tampa Bay Consortium, a group of agencies organizing enrollment efforts for the area.
Led by the Family Healthcare Foundation, the consortium has joined with BayCare Health System and multiple community agencies to place federally funded navigators who are trained to help consumers sort through their insurance options and certified application counselors throughout the area.
"We want to help folks get to the resources most convenient to them," said Melanie Hall, the executive director of the Family Healthcare Foundation. "This is consumer driven."
Too young for Medicare and turned down for private insurance due to pre-existing conditions, Maiyo has been searching for coverage since his retirement three months ago from a position in the parks and recreation department of the city of Tampa.
He tried to look at his options Tuesday when the online insurance marketplace launched but was unable to get past the login page, he said. On Saturday, he spoke to one of the navigators and left the event with a stack of information. He hopes others have the chance to do the same.
"Some of these politicians up in Washington, D.C., don't know what this means to me," Maiyo said. "I wish they could be in my shoes for just one day and experience what I go through. There are a lot of people like me."
At a kickoff press conference prior to the enrollment event, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said there are as many as 90,000 residents in the city who could benefit from the Affordable Care Act.
"Why not give them choices?" he said. "Lets get this implemented."
Steve Mason, the president and CEO of BayCare Health System, said the Affordable Care Act will help save money while also helping people become healthier.
"It is going to help us change our viewpoint around the use of emergency rooms, for example, as a primary care physician office to more affordable levels of care where a person could get a relationship with a doctor," Mason said.
Patients, he said, will get periodic checkups and care so that they don't show up in an emergency room in the worst possible condition.
Inundated with heavy traffic, the federal website for the online marketplace was still moving slowly Saturday, Hall said, so many were not able to get specific information. But, Hall emphasized, people still have plenty of time to sign up for coverage. The deadline for coverage that starts Jan. 1 is Dec. 15.
"This is not on a first-come, first-serve basis," Hall said. "As long as you are enrolled and pay your first premium by Dec. 15 then it really doesn't matter when you do it as long as the process is completed."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.