Health
8:00 am
Fri August 23, 2013

Help Available to "Navigate" Obamacare

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was recently at USF Tampa to award more than four million dollars in grant money to hire "navigators," counselors who will walk people through the

As Health News Florida's Lottie Watts explains, It's not just these so-called "navigators" who will be helping Floridians make sure they comply with one of the biggest parts of the new law — the requirement for nearly all Americans to buy health insurance next year.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces new navigator grant awards at USF Tampa.
Credit USF Health
Lottie Watts - Help Available to "Navigate" Obamacare

When the new online health insurance marketplaces open October 1, millions of people will be able to go online and buy insurance at the click of a mouse. The federal government has a website, healthcare.gov, and a hotline people can call for help. But they'll also have people who can help face-to-face. They're called "navigators."

"These are individuals who will really be connecting people to coverage, and having that ability to do outreach to many people who really haven't had coverage before and answer questions and get folks information so they can in turn make good decisions for themselves and their families is really an important piece of this puzzle," said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

In Florida, several non-profit organizations are getting $7.8 million in grants to pay for "navigators." Sebelius also says there's funding for other outreach efforts.

"This is a, I would say,a multi-part effort, where it won't just be up to groups that receive the navigator grants, but lots of networks," she said.

"Every community health center now has resources to hire individuals who will be at that community health center, a logical place to say to people, if you don't have coverage, here are some options available to you."

Gerry Skinner has worked at Tampa Family Health Centers as a financial counselor for five years. At the East Tampa location, she sees uninsured people, "every day, all day."

"Every single day, I come in and then we help them. We do it as a courtesy to our patients, help them find insurance," she said.

Uninsured Floridians who can't afford insurance or aren't offered it through their employer have limited choices for coverage. Some of the patients Skinner meets can get health care through Medicaid or the Hillsborough County Health Plan for low-income residents.

"If they're over the income limit, that's when we place them on a sliding scale and that's for all of our clinics, for any patient that walks in the door that don't have insurance or whatever, we'll put them on a sliding scale based on their income," Skinner said.

Skinner recently found out she's going to get training to help people sign up for health insurance once the online marketplace opens.

"It ties into my job and what I do already. Because that's what I do, is submit applications and help all our patients don't have no insurance so this is something I definitely need to learn, especially all the stuff that's going to be offered to us now."

Skinner says the clinics provide care for patients who are able to pay on a sliding scale — but it's not the same as having a health insurance plan. She says that will change drastically come October 1 for many of her patients. That's when they'll be able to start shopping on the marketplace for comprehensive plans, ones that don't exclude people with pre-existing health conditions.

"All of patients can have options," she said. "They can have something else, they don't have to say, oh, we're only here on a sliding scale. They can finally get an insurance card that they're able to use and go to referrals and see specialists."

"When you're on a sliding scale, you don't have the ins to see a specialist. And a lot specialists they charge a lot of money for out pocket. So I can't wait for this Obama thing to kick in, I think it's going to be great. (because) for a long time, there really was not too much I could offer my patients that were on sliding scales over the income limit."

She starts her special training on the health insurance exchanges next week.

Open enrollment for the new health insurance marketplace runs from October 1 through March 31.

Grant recipients in Florida:

  •     University of South Florida: $4.2 million
  •     Pinellas County Board of Commissioners: $600,000
  •     Epilepsy Foundation of Florida: $637,686
  •     Advanced Patient Advocacy, LLC: $413,152
  •     Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County: $446,783
  •     National Hispanic Council on Aging: $646,825
  •     Cardon Healthcare Network LLC: $238,000
  •     Mental Health America: $683,691

For more resources on understanding Obamacare, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.