Monday, June 18, 2018
Health

Obamacare open enrollment gets off to a smooth start, but navigators still face challenges

TAMPA — It took Doug Calwhite about 30 minutes Monday to enroll in a new health insurance plan on the Obamacare marketplace.

The 62-year-old retired maintenance mechanic stopped into the University of South Florida's Marshall Student Center for in-person assistance from enrollment experts known as navigators. One quickly helped him trade his midrange silver plan for a more economical bronze plan.

"If people knew how simple it was," he said before leaving, "they would all be here."

Other consumers were equally as satisfied.

"It wasn't bad at all," said Petal Pennycooke, 55, a full-time psychology student who enrolled in coverage for herself and her teenage daughter during a break between classes.

The orderly, efficient scene at USF — on the second day of the annual open enrollment period — was a far cry from the inaugural open enrollment in 2013, when computer glitches kept thousands of consumers from purchasing plans.

This time, there were no technical problems. College students and members of the public streamed in for meetings with navigators well into the afternoon. Most left with coverage.

"The system is running nicely," said Xonjenese Jacobs, a navigator who helped with the kickoff event at USF. "We were able to get someone enrolled within 15 minutes."

Still, the navigators face a herculean task over the next three months. In addition to helping existing consumers like Calwhite shop around, they're hoping to enroll an estimated 825,000 uninsured Floridians eligible for financial assistance, but who have yet to sign up.

"We have a lot of opportunity," said Melanie Hall, of the nonprofit Family Healthcare Foundation.

Last year, more than 1.3 million Floridians signed up for individual insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. About 90 percent received tax credits to help offset the cost of coverage.

Initiatives like Florida Covering Kids & Families, a project of USF and the state's largest recipient of federal funding for navigators, played a significant role in the enrollment effort. The organization and its 11 consortium partners met with more than 200,000 consumers before the close of last year's open-enrollment period, project director Jodi Ray said.

The Florida marketplace will look a little different in 2016.

The state Office of Insurance Regulation expects premiums to rise an average of 9.5 percent for consumers across Florida. But federal health officials have said the average cost of the popular "benchmark plan" — the second lowest-cost silver plan — will drop by 2.4 percent for consumers in the Tampa Bay area.

One thing is certain to increase: the penalty for not having coverage.

Adults who choose to go without health insurance coverage will now be charged $695 or 2.5 percent of their household income — whichever amount is higher.

Efforts to boost enrollment for 2016 are under way. Some are focusing on the so-called "young invincibles" — healthy adults under age 35 who don't see the need for health insurance. Others are specific to the black and Hispanic communities.

Community leaders are rallying behind the cause. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn attended the event at USF and pledged to put "the full weight" of his office behind open enrollment.

"This is a program that makes a difference in the lives of people in this community in very real and tangible ways," he said.

Ray said she believed the 2016 open enrollment would be successful, especially in light of its smooth start Sunday and Monday.

"I have no doubt we will once again exceed enrollment projections," she said.

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

Comments
Funded by Alcohol Industry, Federal Study on Drinking Is Shut Down

Funded by Alcohol Industry, Federal Study on Drinking Is Shut Down

The extensive government trial was intended to settle an age-old question about alcohol and diet: Does a daily cocktail or beer really protect against heart attacks and stroke?To find out, the National Institutes of Health gave scientists $100 millio...
Published: 06/16/18
More than a third of American adults take prescription drugs that may increase risk of depression, study says

More than a third of American adults take prescription drugs that may increase risk of depression, study says

More than a third of American adults are taking prescription drugs, including hormones for contraception, blood pressure medications and medicines for heartburn, that carry a potential risk of depression, according to a study published in the Journal...
Published: 06/12/18
Itís time to use the stingray shuffle to avoid a nasty sting

Itís time to use the stingray shuffle to avoid a nasty sting

Courtney Bilyeu was running toward the murky water alongside a few military officers when it happened.She was an accountant for the U.S. Navy at the time. And on her way to take a swim with some coworkers in a California beach, she saw blood. The wat...
Published: 06/12/18
Itís important to wear sunglasses even on cloudy days, ophthalmologists say

Itís important to wear sunglasses even on cloudy days, ophthalmologists say

The next time you head to the drugstore to buy sunscreen, donít forget to pick up some sunglasses, too. Thatís because both products work to protect your body from the sunís damaging ultraviolet rays.Wearing sunglasses for protection should not be re...
Published: 06/09/18
In St. Pete, kidney patients gather for science and solidarity

In St. Pete, kidney patients gather for science and solidarity

ST. PETERSBURG ó Kidney disease doesnít discriminate.The crowd of more than 200 patients who gathered at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort range in age from teenagers to seniors. They are of different ethnicities and come from all over the...
Published: 06/08/18
Mayo Clinic Q&A: melanomas of the eye; how long should you take a beta blocker?

Mayo Clinic Q&A: melanomas of the eye; how long should you take a beta blocker?

YES, MELANOMAS CAN BEGIN IN THE EYEIs it true that melanoma can develop in the eyes? If so, how common is it? How is it treated?Melanomas can begin in the eye, a condition called intraocular melanoma. Treatment for intraocular melanomas used to prima...
Published: 06/08/18
For writer, using a heart rate monitor takes HIIT from frightening to fun

For writer, using a heart rate monitor takes HIIT from frightening to fun

High-intensity interval training is one of the biggest trends in fitness, but it has always seemed a bit scary to me. To a mere mortal with achy knees and an aging body, even the acronym ó HIIT ó sounded intimidating.But recently, I overcame my fears...
Published: 06/08/18
Enjoy broccolini the Italian way: Ďdraggedí

Enjoy broccolini the Italian way: Ďdraggedí

By KATIE WORKMANOne of the amazing things about Italian food is that the best dishes are often so completely, refreshingly simple. Like, four-ingredient simple. (We donít count olive oil and salt. Or water. Or air.) I love broccoli. I can roast brocc...
Published: 06/08/18
What to get Dad? Try a Fatherís Day gift that will do him good

What to get Dad? Try a Fatherís Day gift that will do him good

Dads are notoriously tough to shop for. Theyíre not all that great at dropping hints, the way moms do, and if you ask what your dad might want or need for Fatherís Day, heíll likely say, "Nothing" or "Donít spend your money" or "I just want to be wit...
Published: 06/08/18
Tampa council hears mixed messages on free-roaming roosters in Ybor City

Tampa council hears mixed messages on free-roaming roosters in Ybor City

TAMPA ó Ybor City roosters and chickens can peck away in peace. For now.The Tampa City Council asked city attorneys and code enforcement officials Thursday to continue studying how to reduce the growing flock in the cityís historic heart, but no acti...
Published: 06/07/18