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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Health & Fitness

Health coverage sign-up push enters home stretch

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TAMPA — It’s crunch time in the effort to get the uninsured enrolled in the federal health insurance marketplace, and advocates say they’ll continue to “shake the bushes” to get people signed up by the midnight Monday deadline.

The White House said Thursday that national enrollment has passed 6 million, up from about 4.2 million on Feb. 28. That’s short of the original goal of 7 million, but it’s considered a milestone given that the HealthCare.gov website didn’t work when it was launched last Oct. 1.

Locally, call volumes are up, face-to-face slots are filling and lines have been spotted at some “navigator” offices, which is “par for the course until we get through Monday,” according to Jodi Ray, a lead navigator and director at Florida Covering Kids and Families.

After the rough national rollout of the health insurance marketplace under President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, it has been a busy six months for Florida navigators. More than 440,000 Floridians were enrolled by the end of February, and the Associated Press reported this week that the state is on a pace to exceed the federal government’s initial projections by Monday’s deadline.

“We’ve really been able to reach the uninsured,” said Ray. “We had a solid plan in place, with partners around the state. I think with the combination of coordination and collaboration, we’ve really been able to get out there, and we’ll continue to shake the bushes and reach the folks that need this information.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa and staunch Affordable Care Act advocate, lauded Ray’s group and other community organizations and navigators who have been doing the legwork.

“They know where many of the uninsured families are,” Castor said. “They’ve taken care of their kids, and they’ve kept track. They’ve done an outstanding job.”

The University of South Florida, where Ray’s group is based, received Florida’s largest navigator grant. The $4.3 million helped with hiring about 100 navigators, many of whom have had extensive experience matching people with social services.

Earlier this week, local navigators were targeting college students at USF, offering advice and helping enroll students and others on campus. Enrolling young people is critical to the success of the marketplace, with that demographic offsetting older adults who typically have more costly health issues.

The government has been quiet about the ratios needed for a successful program, but enrollment in Florida suggests striking a workable balance could be a challenge.

Of the 440,000 who had enrolled by March 1, 11 percent were in the 18 to 25 age group, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Another 13 percent were 26 to 34 years old.

That compares with 30 percent of the applicants who were in the 55 to 64 age group, Health and Human Services said.

Navigators return to USF on Monday.

Florida’s success comes despite opposition to the Affordable Care Act by Gov. Rick Scott and state legislative leaders. Scott, a Republican, declined to pursue efforts to implement a state-based insurance exchange, and the state has refused federal funding offers.

No state money was spent marketing the new health plans.

Nonetheless, “I think this is going to be a very busy weekend,” said Castor. “It’s all hands on deck now. This is so meaningful for millions of Floridians.”

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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