While President Barack Obama expressed frustration over the implementation of the healthcare.gov website, some at USF have been reaching out to communities that still need coverage to help them navigate the changes implemented by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
In August, Jodi Ray, project director for Florida Covering Kids and Families, an organization that works toward providing health care coverage to the uninsured, received a grant of $4.2 million to create a Navigator program, or a federal program designed to create a community based approach to understanding health care changes, for Florida.
Since then, USF has partnered with 10 different organizations across the state to provide community outreach and services to 64 of the
“I was extremely excited when we got the grant,” she said. “We had been working already to help get the uninsured access to health care coverage for 15 years. While we haven’t transitioned out of that, I look at it as we’ve been able to expand what we’ve been doing to reach more of the uninsured.”
Ray has been working on child and family outreach at USF since 1998, initially overseeing a public health campaign on spacing out pregnancies.
Jodi, along with Michelle Ray, the Navigator project manager at USF, has been working closely with the 10 partner organizations to enlist about 90 Navigators to answer the questions their communities might have regarding the ACA.
“We work with partners from Pensacola to Key West, statewide,” Michelle said. “We brought together stakeholders from across the state of Florida to talk about how to get ready for the rollout of ACA and the marketplace in Florida. I think a lot of folks felt like this made sense because USF had the infrastructure to administer the grant and because of the university’s background in administering grants of this size.”
According to 2012 U.S. Census data, Florida has the second highest rate of uninsured individuals, with one out of every four Floridians lacking health care coverage.
What this translates to for the Navigators, Michelle said, is a lot of question answering.
“The job of a Navigator entails a lot of educating,” she said. “Some people have had health care and understand the terminology and complexities involved in coverage, but some have never had it before at all. “
Before the insurance marketplace opened on Oct. 1, Jodi said there were already changes from the ACA that had rolled out that many needed to be made aware of.
“There was the clause that allowed kids to remain on their parents’ insurance until 26,” she said. “There was also the clause that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage for children with pre-existing conditions that will apply to adults in 2014, and that’s a big deal.”
For employees who didn’t traditionally receive health care because they worked for a small business or because they were part time, Jodi said the insurance marketplace’s open enrollment Oct. 1 gave them options.
“The marketplace offers a lot of comprehensive benefits that include preventative measures,” she said. “So people will be able to get screening and stay healthy at no expense. It’s a better way to provide money-saving care for people who won’t have to rush to look for insurance when things start to go down hill for them.”
The efforts of the Navigators have not been without their delays however.
Before the marketplace even opened, Florida Deputy Health Secretary C. Meade Grigg banned them from doing community outreach on the grounds of all county health departments. Governor Rick Scott and other officials said they were worried about what the Navigators might do with the information.
“My concern is really about privacy. Taking personal information and sharing it,” Scott said at a press conference in September. “They ought to tell us what they are going to do.”
Fortunately for the Navigators, Jodi said, the county health departments received $8 million in additional funding to sign up the uninsured.
“We had the luxury of having that in place regardless of whatever occurred in the capital, so health care is still reaching the low-income and uninsured there,” she said.
The marketplace website also saw glitches that prevented Navigators from signing up individuals online during the first few weeks of open enrollment.
While Michelle said the website is getting much better, it’s not the only way Navigators can sign people up for health insurance.
“The website in particular is becoming a lot better,” she said. “We can’t get the application through every time, but we just supplement it with phone call applications or paper applications. It hasn’t deterred us at all from signing people up.”
While they don’t have exact numbers yet, the Navigators say the overall response has been positive and they continue to get inundated with phone calls from people looking to make appointments.
Open enrollment in the health care marketplace will end on March 31, 2014, so Jodi said the plan is to accomplish as much outreach as possible until that time.
“Moving forward, we are really going to try and get all the Navigators in place and out in the communities,” Jodi said. “A lot of them will be using iPhones and iPads to get into the rural areas where sometimes transportation isn’t the best. We are encouraging anyone who’s eligible to just go on the site and look and see what benefits might be available to you.”