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Health

Jax Navigators: Despite Remaining Technical Issues, Florida's Healtcare Exchange Works

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Colin Dunn
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Florida ranks first in the nation in residents signing up for health insurance through Healthcare.gov under the Affordable Care Act among states with federally administrated exchanges.The Sunshine State has one of the largest uninsured populations in the country. Nearly 4 million people, or about 25 percent of the state, lack coverage.

New data shows that through November, more than 17,000 Floridians had selected health care policies through the online federal exchange.

In order to have insurance that kicks in on Jan. 1, people have just one week left to choose a policy. The deadline is next Monday, Dec. 23.

Joyce Case, Navigator Program director with the Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida, and Nicholas Duran, Florida director for Enroll America, joined Melissa Ross for an update.

"We're seeing a lot of folks showing up at our presentations and enrollment events at various stages of the enrollment process and we're getting people onto insurance plans," Case said.

"It's exciting, everybody's excited," she said, citing the feelings expressed by the attendees at an event last Thursday who she said came in without insurance and left with health care.

Nicholas Duran of Enroll America said that despite the botched rollout of Healthcare.gov, his group has seen interest from people who want health care swell since the federal Health Insurance Marketplace opened in October.

"We want people to know that they have until March 31 to enroll, but there are some important dates in between," Duran said.

Next week is the deadline for those who want coverage starting January 1, but the enrollment period for Affordable Care Act plans will remain open until March 31.

Case said that the navigator program is providing opportunities for people who are interested in getting insurance to meet with those who can help them sign up for a policy.

"Everyday we're at (UF Health) at their financial offices in Jacksonville where we have a navigator there for six hours everyday," she said, citing other enrollment events in Volusia and Flagler Counties.

Enroll America has more than 200 volunteers canvassing and calling First Coast residents to get the word out about the new health plans.

One of the largest detriments to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act has been the technical failures of Healthcare.gov. The failed rollout of the site in October has become a political nightmare for President Barack Obama and federal health officials.

"There still are some challenges," said Case. "The website has it's ups and downs."

Despite the technical issues, Case said the people she has helped use the site are getting the coverage they need, citing the example of one woman whose premiums went from around $600 to around $160 through the site.

"If they went on to the website, it's possible that they could qualify for one of the tax subsidized programs and actually get a better policy," Case said when asked what she would say to those whose plans were canceled as a result of the new policy.

Jacksonville-based Florida Blue, the state's largest health insurer, canceled 300,000 individual policies after the opening of the online exchange in October because they did not meet the standards for plans under the Affordable Care Act.

On Nov. 14, President Obama announced that Americans who had their plans canceled because of the legislation would be allowed to keep them for another year.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.