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Florida sets new record for Affordable Care Act enrollment

A record 2.7 million Floridians signed up for health insurance through the federal program known as Obamacare.
A flyer for enrollment in the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace seen at the Children's Board Family Resource Center in Brandon. A record 2.7 million Floridians signed up for health insurance this year through the program, also known as Obamacare.
A flyer for enrollment in the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace seen at the Children's Board Family Resource Center in Brandon. A record 2.7 million Floridians signed up for health insurance this year through the program, also known as Obamacare. [ CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL | Times ]
Published Jan. 31|Updated Jan. 31

Sophany Nuth’s 30-hour-a-week job baking doughnuts doesn’t come with health insurance.

His weekly take-home pay is about $318. With rent, food and other bills, the 35-year-old Seffner father couldn’t afford the $400 a month quotes he got from private health insurers to cover him, his wife and two young children.

He was so worried, Nuth considered moving his family to Canada or Australia, which have universal health care.

“It’s a big stress in the family,” he said.

But Nuth is staying in Florida after enrolling his family in a health care plan through the Affordable Care Act marketplace that he found with the help of navigators from the Family Healthcare Foundation. It will cost just $18 a month.

He is one of a record 2.7 million Floridians who have signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act for 2022, a 600,000 increase from last year.

The federal program, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, is more popular than ever nationwide, too. A record 14.5 million people signed up for this year, surpassing the previous high by almost 2 million. That’s despite Republican attempts to challenge it in court and abolish it during President Donald Trump’s term.

Related: Record number sign up for Affordable Care Act health coverage

That’s due to President Joe Biden’s administration, which spent more on marketing and increased investment in the availability of subsidies through last year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, said Jodi Ray, the executive director of Florida Covering Kids & Families. It’s a navigator program based at the University of South Florida in Tampa that coordinates outreach efforts across the state.

The Department of Health and Human Services restored $80 million to fund outreach efforts cut by the previous administration with the goal of quadrupling the number of navigators, who help people pick and enroll in insurance plans. Also, more insurance companies offered plans in the federal marketplace this year and the cost of premiums remained flat or, in some cases, dropped slightly.

The subsidies, which make some plans as cheap as $10 a month, turned them into a better option for more people, Ray said. The subsidies will expire at the end of 2022 unless Congress extends them.

The uptick in enrollment should mean fewer uninsured people waiting until conditions such as asthma turn serious before they head to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

“Because a lot of people could get coverage they could afford to use,” she said, “it provides peace of mind to a lot of Florida families.”

Ray has heard from navigators that some of the newly insured in Florida recently moved here from other states who moved after losing their jobs during the pandemic or decided to change careers.

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That was the case for Erick Moyer, a travel pharmacy technician who moved to Carrollwood from Delaware.

Erick Moyer, a travel pharmacy technician who moved to Carrollwood from Delaware, enrolled in a health care plan he found through the federal Affordable Care Act marketplace, also known as Obamacare.
Erick Moyer, a travel pharmacy technician who moved to Carrollwood from Delaware, enrolled in a health care plan he found through the federal Affordable Care Act marketplace, also known as Obamacare. [ Erick Moyer ]

The ACA health plans are intended to help low-income people and those whose jobs do not provide health insurance as a benefit. Moyer qualifies because he’s paid about $17 an hour and receives additional income through stipends that, he said, are not considered taxable income.

He has used the ACA marketplace plans for about four years, but this was his first time enrolling in Florida. With the help of a navigator, he chose a silver level plan that will cost about $30 per month thanks to a $600 tax credit subsidy. That’s far cheaper than the $300 a month insurance offered by his employer.

The money he saves goes to paying down about $200,000 of student loans that he accrued while studying to be a pharmacist.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “I found it was cheaper and better insurance going through the health care marketplace.”

The Family Healthcare Foundation, a Tampa nonprofit, was set up to help families and individuals in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties find insurance.

Last year, the group employed 16 navigators — but most were part time because the program’s marketing budget was cut. This year, executive director Katie Roders Turner said she was able to hire 25 full-time navigators.

Katie Roders Turner, executive director of the Family Healthcare Foundation, a Tampa nonprofit. This year, she was able to hire 25 full-time navigators to help people find affordable insurance.
Katie Roders Turner, executive director of the Family Healthcare Foundation, a Tampa nonprofit. This year, she was able to hire 25 full-time navigators to help people find affordable insurance. [ Family Healthcare Foundation ]

Turner, who has worked on enrollment in the marketplace for nine years, said the U.S. government extended eligibility for the program beyond the previous limit of those who made four times more than the federal poverty level, which is $27,750 for a family of four.

Her navigators saw more people in higher income brackets, particularly small-business owners, looking into whether a marketplace plan would work for them.

There are still concerns, however, for the poorest. Those just below the federal poverty level qualify for Medicaid in most states. But Florida is one of 13 that continue to reject a provision of the ACA that would expand Medicaid eligibility to more than 400,000 more Floridians.

It also means some people moving to Florida lose eligibility for state Medicaid assistance they once had and must find another way to pay for treatment. Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties provide basic safety-net health care programs known as indigent care, but Roders Turner said Pasco has no such program.

“It can be a real rude awakening for people coming from New York and California who come down to Florida,” she said.

As one of the Spanish-speaking navigators on-site at the Children’s Board Family Resource Center in Brandon, Jorge Masson was particularly busy the day before the Affordable Care Act enrollment period ended on Jan. 15.
As one of the Spanish-speaking navigators on-site at the Children’s Board Family Resource Center in Brandon, Jorge Masson was particularly busy the day before the Affordable Care Act enrollment period ended on Jan. 15. [ Family Healthcare Foundation ]

The day before the enrollment period ended on Jan. 15, a steady stream of people met with navigators at the Children’s Board Family Resource Center in Brandon.

As one of the Spanish-speaking navigators on-site, Jorge Masson was particularly busy.

A public health graduate from the University of Kentucky, Masson said he was always interested in work that would grant more people access to health care. Before becoming a navigator, he worked as a contract tracer for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

In addition to health insurance, he looks for opportunities where families could benefit from other assistance programs such as food stamps or Florida KidCare, a program that offers free or subsidized health insurance for children.

Sometimes, he does even more than that.

“We also help families find the provider that’s best for them,” he said, “making sure they’re actually taking their kids to go see their doctor, doing their vaccinations, and their yearly checkups and all that.”

• • •

Are you still eligible to enroll?

A special enrollment period to obtain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act is in effect for most of this year. It’s available to those who fall between 100 and 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or who experience major life changes such as having a baby, moving to a new county or losing their health insurance after a change of employment. The federal poverty level is $13,590 for a single-person household and $27,750 for a family of four.

To find out if you’re eligible to enroll in the ACA and to find a navigator near you, visit healthcare.gov.

To find Tampa Bay navigators:

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