TAMPA — For a third straight year, Tampa is opening its recreation centers to health care navigators so residents can get advice about signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
This year, Tampa is competing with 20 other cities in a White House-sponsored Healthy Communities Challenge competition to see which can sign up the highest percentage of people who lack coverage.
The winning community will get a visit from President Barack Obama to highlight its success.
Starting Dec. 1, five city rec centers will be open from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the Obamacare enrollment deadline of Jan. 31. (Because of the holidays, navigators will not be at the centers from Dec. 22 to Jan. 1.)
Last year, officials said, Tampa's outreach was part of an effort that helped 77,256 people in Hillsborough County sign up for coverage.
"That was a very successful project," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "Those are people who now have a sense of security, a sense of hope, a belief that better days are ahead because they don't have that ominous threat hanging over their head that, God forbid, something happens to them and they do not have health insurance."
The Affordable Care Act has reduced the number of uninsured Americans by 45 percent since 2010, said Kristie Canegallo, White House deputy chief of staff for implementation.
In Florida, she said, eight in 10 consumers can find coverage for less than $75 a month after tax credits.
In Tampa, residents can talk with navigators at these locations:
• Loretta Ingraham Center, 1615 N Hubert Ave.
• Hunt Center at Al Lopez Park, 4810 N Himes Ave.
• Cyrus Greene Center, 2101 E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
• Forest Hills Center, 724 W 109th Ave.
• Port Tampa Center, 4702 W McCoy St.
No appointments are necessary, and people do not need to have a city rec card to talk to a navigator.
Buckhorn said his wife, Dr. Catherine Lynch, an obstetrician, sees the problems caused by people not having medical coverage when pregnant women arrive in emergency rooms without having had any prenatal care.
"They walk in and use the emergency rooms as their primary physicians," he said. That leads to bad outcomes, and everyone pays.
"There is nothing more fundamental in our society, I think, than the right to health care," he said. With more people insured, "we have a better community, we have a healthier community."
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.