Florida to get $7.8 million to fund in-person insurance exchange help

08/15/13 Janelle Irwin
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Nearly $70 million is being allocated to communities across the country to make sure uninsured or under-insured people can find affordable healthcare. The announcement was made Thursday at USF Tampa by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. She said it will help the 3.5 million uninsured Floridians.

“In total across this state, there are 8 organizations who will work statewide and receive more than $7.8 million in navigator grants.”

The University of South Florida will receive more than $4 million of that to facilitate programs with 7 other organizations to serve residents in every county except Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward. Among the groups who will receive funding are mental health and minority support groups as well as the Pinellas County Commission. Sebelius said those groups will work together to find ways to reach members of their communities who may not know about the insurance exchanges that open for enrollment on October 1st.

“…to support organizations and individuals to provide in-person assistance in the federally facilitated and state partnership marketplaces across the country including here in Florida.”

USF’s project director of the group Florida Covering Kids and Families, Jodi Ray, said the new funding allows groups to reach uninsured individuals and families who may not have otherwise known there were new health coverage options opening for them.

“We’ll be working with the Hispanic services councils, we’ll be working with free clinics and community health centers and churches and schools and, I mean, we’re going to be shaking the bushes where we know folks shop, where they eat, where they live, in their neighborhoods, in their neighborhood associations, where they get gas – I mean, it’s going to be a list that we probably won’t be able to exhaust.”

This could help some of the more than one million people in Florida who would have been covered under the federally-funded Medicaid expansion the Republican led Florida legislature turned down. Secretary of Health and Human Services’ Sebelius said under the Affordable Care Act, tax credits won’t be available to all of those people, but it will provide options to some.

“A portion of that population would be available for tax credits and they could come into the market and purchase coverage with a lot of help from the federal government.”

And Sebelius said she remains hopeful that Tallahassee lawmakers will change their minds.

“They will look at, I think, the very good study done by the Florida Hospital Association which suggested, as a return on investment, this opportunity is huge for Florida. About somewhere between $50 and $60 billion would come into the state of Florida. They’re estimating about a $90 billion return on GDP which is, I think very significant – about 1.2 million new employees would be hired during that period of time.”

The October 1st deadline to open insurance exchanges could suffer setbacks like delays in federal databases being approved. But Sebelius doesn’t anticipate there being any delays with the availability of in-person insurance exchange navigators. However, she said moving quickly won’t jeopardize the quality of service given to people shopping for health coverage.

“Now, before anyone can help marketplace consumers, navigators would be required to complete at least 20 hours of training, be certified that they have completed that training and additional training through out the year. They’ll need to renew their certification yearly and must pass a test before being certified.”

The program builds on services that were already available to help people manage their way through the new insurance marketplaces. Online webchats are available on two websites – one in English and one in Spanish. Sebelius said consumers can also access help over the phone.

“We have a 24/7 call center with a toll free number with people ready to answer questions in up to 150 languages.”

The announcement comes as some Republican members of Congress are planning to oppose government spending bills that contain funding for the health care law, sparking debate that the move could force a government shutdown as a September 30th deadline approaches to fund government spending. In a Washington Post Op-ed, House Speaker Newt Gingrich defended the prospect, pointing to a similar situation in 1995. But member of Congress Kathy Castor said she doesn’t expect his efforts to be a problem.

“I think this is the Tea Party’s last ditch effort to tank the Affordable Care Act, but they’re not going to be successful because it’s the law, it’s been upheld by the United States Supreme Court and people are working across the country to make it work.”

But Republican members of Congress have been unrelenting. They’ve voted 40 times to repeal Obamacare. Castor said that’s why Thursday’s announcement to fund in-person outreach efforts for people who don’t understand the healthcare law is so important.

“…the largest grant in the state of Florida to hire people, to make sure that folks who have questions about the new health insurance marketplace that will come online in October, they’ll have their questions answered by people in the community who they know and trust.”

The open enrollment through the insurance marketplaces across the country will be open for six months starting on October 1st and running through March. The plans will be available to consumers as early as January 1st, 2014.

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