Sunday, December 17, 2017
Health

Obamacare 'navigators' face an uphill climb in the search for uninsured holdouts

LUTZ — Matt Sommers showed up at the Lake Park homecoming powwow this week with a single mission: to spread the word about health insurance.

It wasn't easy.

A few people took fliers about the Affordable Care Act marketplace, which opens for enrollment Sunday. But others politely declined, turning their attention instead to the colorful Native American costumes and spirited dancing.

Sommers, a trained health insurance adviser known as a navigator, saw it as progress.

"Just being present in the community is important," he said.

Navigators like Sommers have been helping Floridians get coverage under the Affordable Care Act since 2013. In past years, uninsured people came to them. But this year, navigators face the daunting challenge of reaching the state's 825,000 uninsured Obamacare holdouts and convincing them to enroll.

They have a lot of ground to cover, said Jodi Ray, director for Florida Covering Kids & Families at the University of South Florida, the state's largest recipient of federal funding for navigators.

"We're honing in on our rural populations," she said. "We're trying to reach a lot of folks who are the young-adult population. We're working hard to reach more Hispanic populations across the state. We will be working with the re-entry population."

It will take some creativity.

Case in point: A handful of navigators went to a zombie festival in Lakeland earlier this month to find uninsured millennials.

The navigators will do more than make the case for coverage; they will explain what happens to people who choose not to enroll. Next year, the penalty for not having insurance will increase to either $695 or 2.5 percent of a person's household income — whichever amount is higher.

"That could potentially cover an individual for up to eight months," Ray said.

About 9.9 million Americans have Obamacare health insurance plans, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In a nod to just how tough finding new enrollees will be, federal health officials are hoping to boost the number of people with ACA plans to only about 10 million by the end of 2016.

"We believe 10 million is a strong and realistic goal," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said recently.

Florida has had success in the past. About 1.3 million residents have coverage under the Affordable Care Act, making the state's enrollment second only to California's.

But there is an opportunity to increase enrollment even further. An estimated 30 percent of the state's 2.8 million uninsured residents are eligible for tax credits to offset the cost of coverage, according to a recent analysis by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Milton Vázquez, the Florida spokesman for Enroll America, said navigators will be focusing on the so-called "young invincibles," healthy young adults who don't see a need for insurance.

They will also continue doing outreach in black and Hispanic communities.

"Despite historic gains in the African-American and Hispanic communities, people in those communities are still much more likely to be uninsured," Vázquez said.

A number of nonprofits and government agencies will sponsor navigators in the Tampa Bay area, including the Pinellas County Human Services Department.

The Family Healthcare Foundation will deploy a dozen full-time navigators and seven part-time navigators in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties, executive director Melanie Hall said. The organization also will partner with the Hispanic Services Council, the Healthy Start Coalitions in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and the BayCare Health System, among other groups.

One of Hall's goals for 2016 is to clear up misconceptions about cost.

"People are convinced they can't afford it," she said, pointing out that 90 percent of Floridians with Obamacare plans receive financial assistance. "We can show them that they qualify for a tax credit and show them some plans that are affordable."

She also wants to help those with existing coverage shop around for better plans.

Despite the challenges, leaders like Vázquez are optimistic.

"We knew that it was going to be a marathon and not a sprint," he said. "We're going to continue to grind along to make sure we find those uninsured populations and get them the information they need."

Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

Comments
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Published: 12/15/17
Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Today is the day that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act will close for most people. But those affected by the slew of hurricanes that pummelled Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states earlier this year can take advantage of a two-week ...
Published: 12/15/17
City Council sinks deal to alter ownership of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg

City Council sinks deal to alter ownership of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — After months of tense negotiations and weeks of political impasse, the City Council on Thursday derailed a proposal that would have changed the ownership structure of the city’s largest hospital, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.The 5-...
Published: 12/14/17
Florida hospitals call for more funding in effort to address looming doctor shortage

Florida hospitals call for more funding in effort to address looming doctor shortage

The number of doctors practicing in Florida has not kept up with the state’s surging population growth, and more money is needed to recruit and keep them here, hospital leaders said Wednesday.The shortage is particularly acute in four speciality area...
Published: 12/13/17
An overlooked epidemic: Older Americans taking too many unneeded drugs

An overlooked epidemic: Older Americans taking too many unneeded drugs

Consider it America’s other prescription drug epidemic.For decades, experts have warned that older Americans are taking too many unnecessary drugs, often prescribed by multiple doctors, for dubious or unknown reasons. Researchers estimate that 25 per...
Published: 12/13/17
How is Florida’s health? Not so great, report says

How is Florida’s health? Not so great, report says

Florida slightly improved its national standing this year, rising from 36th to 32nd overall in the annual America’s Health Rankings report. But the takeaway for the nation’s third-largest state is that it has a long way to go in many important health...
Published: 12/12/17
Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

The floor-to-ceiling glass windows are heavily tinted and the inside is hidden behind rows of curtains. Security cameras monitor every corner, and only patients with an appointment and valid identification can pass through the intentionally cramped e...
Published: 12/12/17
Video: Jimmy Kimmel holds his baby son, post-heart surgery, in emotional health-care monologue

Video: Jimmy Kimmel holds his baby son, post-heart surgery, in emotional health-care monologue

Jimmy Kimmel was absent from his ABC late-night show last week while his 8-month-old son, Billy, recovered from his second heart surgery. Ever since Billy was born with a heart defect and required immediate surgery, Kimmel has become an outspoken adv...
Published: 12/12/17
Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

With just four days left to enroll for health insurance on the federal exchange, advocates for the Affordable Care Act say Florida is headed for a record-breaking year. In week five of the six-week open enrollment period, about 823,180 people signed ...
Published: 12/12/17
A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

A boy shares the pain of being bullied - inspiring thousands to show him love (w/video)

While fighting back tears, young Keaton Jones couldn’t stop asking one question: Why?"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it?" he asks his mother while in the passenger seat of a parked car. "Why do you find joy in taking in...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17