The debut of the online health insurance marketplace means consumers can consider competing policies at lower prices. But not everyone has a computer or the means to sift through all the options.
That's where community health centers come in: guiding folks to the right plan, said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.
Castor visited the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center in St. Petersburg last week to talk about how the Affordable Care Act is helping Floridians and to promote the online marketplace.
She said among Affordable Care Act benefits is the requirement that co-pays and premiums go to health care services. Then, people get rebate checks.
In the Tampa Bay area, the act has generated $47 million in rebates for almost 1 million individuals, she said.
"When you receive that rebate check later this summer, you can thank Obamacare," she said.
The challenge is addressing the 20 to 25 percent of Floridians who don't have access to affordable health insurance, Castor said.
Community health centers play a huge role in reaching out, she said.
Cheryl Robinson, who oversees the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center, said the center has a team of people trained to go out into the community to inform people about finding the right plan on the marketplace.
Joseph Santini, business development director of Community Health Centers of Pinellas, said the grant money Castor has secured will allow the center to hire five to seven new employees. Along with retrained staff members, those employees will reach out to the 42 percent of their clientele that is uninsured.
"Let's face it. This is going to be labor intensive," Castor said. "That's why the grant money came to Community Health Centers of Pinellas, to hire those folks who will be on the ground."
Because of the state Legislature's rejection of expanded Medicaid, 1 million Floridians are left in a gap: unable to qualify for Medicaid, yet too poor to qualify for federal subsidies to help purchase insurance coverage on the online market exchange.
"When they fall in the gap, and there certainly is still a small gap, that's where we come in with our sliding fee schedule and we work with the individuals where they are financially to ensure that they have access to primary care," Santini said.
Castor called the rejection of expanded care a shortsighted decision for which all Floridians will pay.
"The speaker of the House, and the people that support it, in essence said, 'If you are a hardworking person but you make less than $20,000 a year, we're going to bar you from the doctor's office. Go to the emergency room,'" Castor said. "Hopefully, they will change their minds."
Claire McNeill can be reached at [email protected]