Today, more Americans have health insurance than ever before — under the Affordable Care Act, more than 17.6 million people have gained coverage, uninsured rates have plummeted and millions more families have the security of knowing that they won't go broke just because somebody got sick. At the same time, we've seen exceptionally slow growth in health care costs as well as encouraging improvements in quality of care for patients. All of that is good news.
But there are still millions of people who lack this security — and many of them live in just a small number of communities across the country, including here in Tampa.
So I have a challenge for you, Tampa.
Open enrollment season for plans on the Health Insurance Marketplace just began, and we're launching the Healthy Communities Challenge to rally folks to get covered in 20 communities with the greatest potential for impact. And if Tampa signs up the highest percentage of your neighbors who aren't covered this year, I'll come visit to tell the whole country about all of your success.
So maybe you're a local official, a pastor, or a sports hero who can spread the word. Maybe you've got a cousin or an uncle who's been uninsured for far too long. Or maybe you're between jobs and don't think that affordable coverage is an option for you. No matter who you are, everybody can get covered or help their neighbors do so.
You can start by telling folks about how affordable this coverage can be. In Florida, 8 in 10 people can get covered for $75 or less a month. For a lot of folks, that's less than their cellphone or cable bill. And last year, consumers in Florida saved an average of $296 a month thanks to tax credits for Marketplace coverage.
You can tell folks how easy it is to sign up. Getting covered used to mean filling out endless pages of forms — and sometimes even a medical exam. But today, HealthCare.gov makes the process fast and simple — you can shop around, compare plans and choose the one that works for you and your family.
You can tell folks that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition — and that preventive care like checkups and mammograms are now covered for free.
And most importantly, you should tell folks to go to HealthCare.gov or Cuidado DeSalud.gov to sign up. Or they can call 1-800-318-2596 for confidential assistance 24/7 — help is available in more than 200 languages. And in many cities, local events or assistance are available to help guide you and your neighbors through the process.
Open enrollment is already under way, and if you sign up by Dec. 15, you'll have coverage on New Year's Day. But no matter what, you should sign up by Jan. 31 to get coverage next year.
So I hope everyone in Tampa will get their families and their neighbors involved. That's what the Healthy Communities Challenge is all about — working together, block by block, community by community, to help each other and this country get ahead. So good luck — maybe I'll see you in Tampa next year.
President Barack Obama wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.