By Christopher Curry
The second year of Affordable Care Act enrollment starts in mid-November, and the navigators who help consumers sign up for health insurance coverage are gearing up to begin work.
Enrollment starts Nov. 15, and navigators will begin seeing residents interested in signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 3, said Lauren Vagelakos, the project coordinator for the nonprofit WellFlorida Council’s navigator program.
Like last year, the navigator program in Alachua County will be offered through several public library branches and at the Suwannee River Area Health Education Center in the city of Alachua.
While the schedule is not finalized, navigators are expected to be at the Tower Road Branch Library on Nov. 3.
Vagelakos said WellFlorida wants to establish a set schedule in which navigators are consistently at the same location during the same hours and day of the week. She said eight navigators covered the region last year, and WellFlorida wants to increase that to 10 this year.
This year, Vagelakos said the window of time to sign up for insurance will be smaller. Last year, enrollment lasted six months. This year, it will run from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15.
This will be the first opportunity to change coverage for anyone who signed up through the Affordable Care Act last year. Vagelakos also said that anyone who is enrolled and plans to keep their plan should go in and update personal information. She said that is particularly true for their income and ZIP code, two pieces of information that help determine the level of tax subsidy a person receives as assistance to cover insurance costs.
More than 90 percent of the people who received coverage in Florida through the Affordable Care Act last year received a subsidy.
In Florida, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded three grants totaling $6.8 million for navigators to explain coverage options and help residents apply for assistance and enroll. The largest grant, $5.4 million, went to the University of South Florida. Last year, USF was in charge of the navigator program in every county except Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. This year, USF will oversee the program in all 67 counties by subcontracting with organizations to handle the various regions of the state.
Like last year, USF has selected the nonprofit WellFlorida Council to oversee the program in a 15-county region of North Central Florida. The WellFlorida Council in turn will subcontract with the Suwannee River Area Health Education Center to oversee the navigator program in Alachua County and other surrounding counties and the Heart of Florida Health Center, a federal safety net clinic, in Marion and Sumter counties.
In addition to WellFlorida, the nonprofit group Get Covered America also will be active in outreach efforts to boost the numbers of people signing up for coverage. The group is active in 11 states, including Florida, where state lawmakers rejected the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act, said David O’Malley, an organizer with Get Covered America.
In addition to setting up tables at such events as the Gainesville Pride Festival and the Gainesville Downtown Festival & Art Show, O’Malley said the group plans to work with navigators to organize three or four large enrollment events in Gainesville.
O’Malley said one challenge during this year’s smaller sign-up period will be reaching people who did not yet sign last year.
The “most significant barrier,” he said, is a lack of understanding on the financial assistance programs available to people signing up for insurance.
Last year, more than 4,400 navigator or assistance programs in the country, with more than 28,000 full-time-equivalent staff and volunteers, reached 10.6 million people, according to a Kaiser Health News report.