By Kristine Crane
Alachua County will benefit the most among all other Florida counties from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, according to a recent analysis by a California-based financial services information website.
Called “NerdWallet,” the group provides financial information for consumers in a number of areas, including health care and insurance, travel, housing and education. Started by hedge fund and financial analysts, the group includes a team of number crunchers specialized in various sectors of the economy.
Health analyst Napala Pratini did the analysis of Florida counties that determined the 10 that will benefit most from the ACA. Pratini came up with the list by looking at a few different measures: Doctor density, percentage of the population that is uninsured, and average monthly insurance premiums — for both individuals and families (a married couple with two children).
Alachua County rose to the top mostly because of Gainesville’s high number of primary care doctors, which was 202 per 100,000 people.
“The doctor density there is really striking,” Pratini said. “It’s twice what it is in other places.”
The county’s percentage of uninsured — 20.4 percent — was also lower than all the other counties, except for Bradford, which has a 20 percent uninsured rate.
“We picked measures that we thought would contribute to people enrolling,” she said.
For each of the 10 counties, Pratini also highlighted programs that are already in place that facilitate access to health care. In Alachua County, she mentioned the FluMist program, which provides free vaccinations to school children.
But mostly, the study focused on potential beneficiaries of the ACA — and health reform as a way to protect personal finances.
“The ACA is a big opportunity for a lot of people to get coverage,” Pratini said. “There are tons of opportunities to save money on it,” from disease prevention to understanding deductibles and negotiating your medical bills.
The ACA also marks a cultural shift toward a more consumer-based system, she continued.
“Now we’re seeing more opportunities for people to shop around and become better health care consumers.”
Area experts were hesitant to comment on the analysis but agreed that, in theory, Alachua County would benefit most from health insurance reform.
“I’m not surprised at that Alachua County is one of the counties would benefit the most … (because) of the level of income disparity that we have in Alachua County and the large percentage of residents who live below the poverty level. It’s consistent with some of the other data that I have received,” said Dr. Allan March, who chaired the advisory board of CHOICES, a countywide program that helped the working poor obtain health insurance but ended in December.
March said the board will be surveying former CHOICES beneficiaries in April to see how many have enrolled in the health insurance exchanges as part of the ACA. The enrollment period ends at the end of March.
As of the end of January, approximately 341 people in North Central Florida (not just Alachua County) had enrolled in the health exchanges, and another 2,719 had sought information about the exchanges, according to WellFlorida, which is coordinating enrollment efforts in this part of the state.