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U.S. HHS Secretary Promotes ACA At Regency Square Mall

Peter Haden

With three weeks left in the health insurance marketplace open enrollment period, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell was in Jacksonville Friday encouraging people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act at Regency Square Mall.

Burwell says, “So we want to meet the consumer where they are and we’re trying to get that messaging out in a number of ways. First of all I’m here to today as part of that effort, meeting with stakeholders, the events that we talked about today, the open-enrollment events.”

Burwell spoke at an ACA signup station inside the mall. She says the application process has been significantly streamlined this year. Florida leads the 37 states using the federally-run exchange in the number of people enrolled. So far, 1.2 million Floridians have signed up for a plan since open enrollment began in November.

WJCT's Peter Haden spoke with Sec. Burwell. Here's a transcript of their conversation: 

Peter: Last year was the first year of the Affordable Care Act. There were some bumps along the way. What lessons were learned from last year?

Sec. Burwell: So we learned a lot of lessons, and I would summarize what we did was, first we had a deep focus on the consumer and the consumer experience. Whether that was the website, or making it easier, the idea of going from an application for people that are new. 70 percent of them from 76 screens down to 16. Or pre-populating that information for re-enrollment, so consumer ease and the other thing is really listening to those stakeholders on the ground which is part of what I was doing today. To make sure we keep incorporating what they're saying as they are serving the communities that they're in.

Peter: Secretary, I wanted to ask you about a phenomenon that's called The Cliff, it's a tax issue about people who are doing their taxes. For example, if they're four times the poverty level, they qualify for a subsidy, and if they earned somewhat more than that, which they didn't estimate on their original application, they could be penalized or actually taxed. Can you speak to that?

Sec. Burwell: So with regard to the tax issue across the board, I think one of the most important things is as we go into this tax season that over three quarters of everyone will just check a box. For those that are in the market place and have received that benefit of the subsidy for the period of time, that you will receive information on in the mail and it's a form called a 1095A and it's important for people to know.

It will be labeled; "Important Tax Information" and it will help you figure out if you've paid too much or if you've received too much subsidy or too little subsidy which could help you with your taxes. For those that are flipping over that edge, there are a number of things.

One is making sure that you fill out month by month, because that's why you get this form and it will ask you, so there are different months where you have had different subsidies in terms of how that will calculate in your taxes. So the last category of those who did not have insurance and a number of those people will be exempt because they can't afford insurance.

Certainly those here in the state of Florida that are a part of the gap because of a lack of Medicaid expansion, will not be paying any fees at all. Those who can't afford healthcare won't be paying any fees at all. Those who have had certain types of traumatic life events, suffered from a natural disaster won't as well.

The only people that will be in that category will be people who actually could afford it and made a choice not to engage in healthcare. And that's about the personal responsibility of all of us being part of a system, so you don't wait until you're sick and then have everybody else paying for your care. 

Peter Haden is an award-winning investigative reporter and photographer currently working with The Center for Investigative Reporting. His stories are featured in media outlets around the world including NPR, CNN en Español, ECTV Ukraine, USA Today, Qatar Gulf Times, and the Malaysia Star.