Obamacare Enrollment Efforts Focus on Finding Hard-to-Reach, Young

By Ron Hurtibis, South Florida Sun Sentinel

As the third enrollment period for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act begins on Sunday, outreach efforts shift to finding the hardest to reach of the remaining uninsured, organizers said.

That means dispatching bilingual outreach “navigators” to rural neighborhoods in South Florida and throughout the state, said Karen Egozi, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, one of the state’s primary health insurance assistance groups.

“We were sort of focusing on urban areas [in the first two years],” she said. “Now we’re going rural.”

Even though about 1.6 million previously uninsured residents were signed up over the past two years in Florida — more than in any other state — this year’s focus will be to find the 825,000 uninsured who might not know they are eligible for federal subsidies.

Navigators who speak Spanish, Creole and Portuguese will spend time in rural areas such as Belle Glade and Loxahatchee, not just offering to help people sign up, but asking patients about the medicines and specialists they require to ensure they sign up for a plan that’s right for them, Egozi said.

Navigators will also reach out through college campuses and social media to young adults who don’t think they need health insurance, she said. “Young people have the idea they’re invincible. They don’t make the connection they might need coverage themselves.”

While the ACA allows parents to keep their adult children on their plans until they are 26, not every young adult has that option. People in their 20s are subject to tax penalties like everyone else if they fail to sign up for a qualifying plan. This year, fines for not having health insurance are increasing from $325 to $695 or 2.5 percent of income above $10,150, whichever is larger.

In 2016, a 27-year-old in Florida earning $25,000 a year can qualify for a tax credit of $94 a month, compared with $92 last year, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Help is also available to people who signed up for insurance over the past two years but aren’t sure how to use their coverage, Egozi said. “Some never had health insurance before, and even now only go to a doctor when they are sick, or when they go to the emergency room.”

Many don’t know the law requires plans to provide free-of-charge preventative measures such as blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, colorectal cancer screenings, mammograms, contraception, many vaccines and immunizations, and a range of screenings for children, including vision and hearing, Egozi said.

And re-enrollees should check out their options rather than just allow their current plan to renew, experts say.

More than eight in 10 Florida enrollees who return to comparison shop in the marketplace (healthcare.gov) can find coverage for $100 or less after tax credits are applied, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Florida consumers in many areas can choose from up to 10 providers offering an average of 52 plans. Cost of the second-lowest price “silver” plan will increase an average of 1 percent in Florida compared with 7.2 percent nationwide. Enrollees eligible for tax subsidies won’t see those increases, and in many cases will see premiums go down, according to estimates released in September. Silver-level plans were chosen by 69 percent of enrollees for 2015 coverage.

But consumers shouldn’t consider price alone when selecting a plan, said Jodi Ray, project director for Florida Covering Kids & Families at University of South Florida. “In fact, we find very often that other factors are more important like network availability, physicians on the network, access to specific services, other out-of-pocket costs like deductibles, co-insurance, prescriptions and their co-pays,” Ray said by email. “So it should be a part of every appointment with a navigator to evaluate what the patient’s priorities are and what are their specific healthcare needs to be considered when they go through the plans.”

2016 enrollment facts:

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