Tampa Mayor Buckhorn uses rec centers to help residents enroll in Affordable Care Act
Tampa has opened nine of its busiest recreation centers to navigators charged with helping individuals enroll in Obamacare. During a press conference Monday at the Loretta Ingraham Center in Westshore, Mayor Bob Buckhorn says when it comes to helping the nearly 100,000 uninsured Tampans find affordable coverage, the city is all in.
“Our men and women are running on calls to people that don’t have healthcare insurance that if they did have healthcare insurance and they could address some of the chronic needs that they have early in the process before they become chronic, before they become debilitating, before become an emergency and they have to call 911 and show up at Tampa General Hospital or St. Joe’s Hospital in acute conditions that end up costing us, all of us, who will pay that bill significantly more than if they had healthcare insurance and they were able to address these needs at the beginning of the process.”
Providing space for healthcare navigators to help people enroll in plans through healthcare.gov won’t cost the city a dime. Buckhorn says the city will also partner with faith-based groups and will release public service announcements to help spread the word before open enrollment ends in 11 weeks. Emergency responders are also going to be armed with brochures and other information for uninsured individuals who call 911.
“Who when they go on calls, will have material to leave behind for patients that they are visiting, patients that need that healthcare insurance, who if they did have that healthcare insurance wouldn’t have to call 911 wouldn’t have to Tampa Fire Rescue come and provide that service.”
Buckhorn was joined by U.S Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
“Here in Florida, 3.5 million Floridians have no insurance at all – about 23% of the residents of the state no insurance at all.”
According to Sebelius, more than 250,000 Floridians have already enrolled in health plans through the federal insurance marketplace. That’s an eighth of nationwide enrollment as of last month.
“And we know this about what’s happened here in Florida, 83% of Floridians who have signed up have gotten assistance. So, a large number qualify.”
Individuals who signed up by December 15 were eligible for coverage starting January 1st. But a CNN report showed that many of those individuals, including some in Florida, were not able to use their new coverage because they didn’t have insurance cards or even numbers. Sebelius acknowledged there has been some trouble there, but deflected the blame to individual insurers.
“We’re the website, not the company. They have to – consumers really have to deal with your company. We do have – calling the call center and making sure if you’re still having a problem we can intervene in a casework fashion on their behalf, we’re happy to do.”
Florida received nearly $8 million in federal funding to hire healthcare navigators trained to help people navigate the federally-run website. Healthcare.gov had been plagued by glitches since it launched on October 1st, but the problems have been fixed. A search of locations offering application assistance in Tampa on healthcare.gov has 182 locations listed in the Tampa Bay area, but people looking for help don’t even have to go to one of those places. Joanna Reid is a certified navigator with United Way Suncoast.
“As a navigator, I’m able to meet my clients in public places such as the libraries or churches, your coffee shops or here at the recreation center. It’s not only within the office that they’ll come and meet me, but I can meet them where they are. If there are any barriers with transportation, I’m able to meet up at a closest public place so that we can enroll into the marketplace.”
Tampa area Congress member Kathy Castor, a Democrat, says there are still people out there without coverage who don’t know about the many resources available.
“We need to pledge here today, to ask our sons and daughters, small business owners that we visit, the aunts and uncles, folks in church, when you go through the grocery line that you’re asking them, ‘are you signed up?’ If they say, ‘well, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to go.’ You can tell them that it’s easy – you come to the Tampa Parks and Rec Center. You can make an appointment.”
Mayor Buckhorn nodded in agreement behind her.
“This is not a bill This is not a wish. This is not a dream. This is not debatable. This is the law and we’re going to get our folks engaged and signed up because ultimately the quality of their life is what Kathy Castor and I were charged to do and to protect and to advocate for.”
Open enrollment in the insurance marketplace ends March 31st. People making between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level qualify for a subsidy on the more than 100 plans offered through the exchange.
Here's a list of Tampa Recreation Centers offering application assistance
· Springhill Center, 1000 E Eskimo - Mondays
· Loretta Ingraham Center, 1615 N Hubert Ave - Tuesdays
· Cyrus Greene Center, 2101 E Dr. MLK Jr Blvd - Tuesdays
· Jackson Heights Center, 3310 E Lake Ave – Tuesdays
· Hunt Center at Al Lopez Park, 4810 N. Himes Ave – Wednesdays
· Gwen Miller Center, 6410 N 32nd St - Wednesdays
· Forest Hills Center, 724 W 109th Ave - Thursdays
· Port Tampa Center, 4702 W McCoy St – Thursdays
· Copeland Park Center, 11001 N 15th St - Fridays