Citrus County Chronicle
By Abdon Sidibe
Today is the kick-off of a three-month period when those without health insurance can get it. Officials with the Affordable Care Act are hoping to enroll up to one million Floridians.
Florida was one of the surprises last year when 980,000 residents signed up — the most among the 36 states using the federally run exchange. State lawmakers refused to expand Medicaid, which would have ensured health coverage for all residents. Medicaid provides coverage for low-income families, children, the elderly and people with disabilities.
Last year, nearly 10 million Americans signed up for the program commonly known as Obamacare after a glitch-riddled roll-out at healthcare.gov.
However, another 30 million Americans remain without health care coverage. Analysts are hoping for a smoother launch the second time around and the federal government has given grants to several states to ensure that more people get health coverage.
This coming year also marks when penalties for not signing up for the program will ratchet up: $325 per adult, $162.50 per child and up to $975 per family or 2 percent of family income.
A recent survey found 9 out of 10 Americans were unaware that enrollment to have health coverage begins today.
However, in Citrus County, health care facilities such as Seven Rivers Regional Medical Center are leading the way to help their patients navigate the complexities of the health care act.
“As a primary health provider in Citrus County and surrounding areas, we want to help educate residents in an easy-to-understand way, as well as assist those who haven’t yet signed up for health insurance or Medicaid, if qualified,” Joyce Brancato, chief executive officer of Seven Rivers, said in a news release.
“During the next few months, we will be educating consumers, making presentations in the community and meeting one on one to help these individuals find affordable coverage for themselves and their family,” Brancato added.
HPH Hospice in Citrus has partnered with WellFlorida to provide a location for community members who need assistance with obtaining health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, according to HPH Hospice spokeswoman Anne Black.
“This WellFlorida Council Federal Health Insurance Marketplace/Exchange Project is a win-win for everyone in our community,” Black said.
She said HPH Hospice will have someone — a navigator — available 10 hours weekly very soon to help people sign up, especially those without access to online resources.
“As a not-for-profit agency, HPH is honored to provide care, comfort and support for folks from all socio-economic backgrounds. We know that in Citrus County, groups working together achieve so much more for folks who live here. I love Citrus County,” Black added.
Lauren Vagelakos, who is with WellFlorida Council of Gainesville, said her organization received a grant from the feds to provide navigators in 15 counties in North Central Florida.
Vagelakos said the navigators will be trained and background checked to provide “free unbiased” assistance to those seeking help with signing up.
“Everyone does not have a computer or the ability to be online. These navigators will be there to make sure all their questions are answered and provide them with the information necessary to become enrolled,” Vagelakos said.
She said the grant is for a year, which should make it possible for people to contact the navigators for any further queries they may have after the close of the enrollment period. Vagelakos expects the navigator for Citrus to be announced soon.
Citrus Memorial hospital does not have a major initiative to get people signed up, but is sharing information with patients as they need it, according to spokeswoman Katie Myers.
Myers said it is always the mission of the hospital to help its patients with their health care needs.
Enrollment outreach is said to be particularly important in Florida because it has the nation’s third-highest rate of people under age 65 without health coverage.
A whopping 91 percent of Floridians who signed up for coverage in 2014 received subsidies from the feds.
Average monthly premiums were $68 including tax credits.
Federal officials are hoping to enroll 13 million people nationwide in 2015, nearly double the current 7.3 million enrolled.
Some of the nearly 10 million who originally enrolled in the exchanges either could not pay their premiums or joined employer plans thus causing the figures to drop to 7.3 million.
The feds offered Florida $51 billion to expand Medicaid, but the Republican-controlled Legislature has balked at the notion. Gov. Rick Scott also initially opposed the idea, but switched positions in 2013 during the run-up to his re-election Nov. 4.
According to Florida Office Insurance Regulation data, the average monthly premium is expected to increase by 13.2 percent this year.