The Affordable Care Act Marketplace opens October 1. Despite considerable opposition from some residents and lawmakers, Floridians will be able to shop online for health insurance and compare rates for different levels of coverage.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) – also known as Obamacare - is for people who don’t have health insurance or those who buy insurance on their own instead of getting coverage through an employer.
Twenty-eight-year-old real estate agent Michael DeFilippi lives in Miami Beach. He doesn’t have health insurance. He said he’s in good health – doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs – and would rather pay a fine than pay insurance premiums.
“I don’t see the need for it,” DeFilippi said. “I’m very healthy and active, so I just don’t have any interest in it.”
He’s part of the vocal opposition to the ACA, which is designed to give more people insurance and lower overall healthcare costs for taxpayers.
“I don’t think I should be forced to buy health insurance. I have no problem taking the risk of just having good health and hopefully no accidents will happen,” DeFilippi said. “I just live day by day, so I don’t think in a negative mindset.”
Florida’s Republican leadership also doesn’t agree with the health insurance mandate.
The state won’t have any oversight regarding the cost of coverage, choosing instead to let the federal government handle it.
Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, says the country will have a shortage of 90,000 physicians and 1.2 million nurses by the year 2020 because of the new rules governing healthcare.
He recently told a House panel in Washington that the federal government is keeping states in the dark about the new law.
“What we do know doesn’t look very good,” Hudson said. “The ACA will make our health workforce shortage
even worse and has led to skyrocketing premiums, has kept states uninformed and puts consumers’ privacy at risk through the insurance exchanges. Patients will face even longer wait times and worse access to specialty care.”
Figures just released by the federal government show Floridians will pay about $250 a month on average for the lowest cost plans - and that amount will be reduced for those who qualify for tax credits.
Damien Filer with the advocacy group Progress Florida says critics of the law should remember that nearly 25 percent of Florida residents – about 3.8 million people - have no healthcare coverage.
“Scare tactics have been a real part of the opposition to providing as many Floridians as possible with affordable, quality healthcare, and I think Florida families are really tired of all the politics,” Filer said. “They want to see something get done, and I think that this kind of rhetoric will start to fade into the background.”
Filer says those shopping for insurance have nothing to fear from the people offering assistance in communities around the state. They’re called navigators.
“These are people that have received training, that understand what the laws are as regards people’s privacy,” Filer said. “There’s really no difference between this and when people have questions about Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security. It’s simply a resource for people.”
Jodi Ray received a federal grant to hire navigators. She’s project director for the Florida Covering Kids and Families initiative at the University of South Florida.
“They’re not collecting people’s personal information. They’re assisting them with filling out the form. So they don’t need to collect information and walk away with it,” Ray said.
Her navigators have been trained and will fan out across the state to offer assistance. Ray is urging shoppers to go online now and create an account.
“They can go to healthcare.gov and already register and get their account set up. That's something they can do now,” Ray said. “They don’t have to wait for us, and that will save some time when they sit down and have to do an application.”
Shoppers won’t get much help from the state. Florida leaders, citing privacy concerns, have banned navigators from entering county health departments. But several counties, including Broward, Miami Dade and Pinellas, say they will ignore the order.
Carol Gentry with Health News Florida said those who seek treatment at the health department are often the ones who need coverage the most.
“Right now counties are either adding sales taxes or property taxes or all kinds of mechanisms to try to raise money to pay for the care of the uninsured,” Gentry said.
The cost of premiums will be based on income, family size and the level of coverage. There are four plans that range from bronze, which is the most basic coverage, to platinum. Geographic location will also factor into the cost.
Gentry said the new marketplace will serve the uninsured of all ages as well as those who buy private insurance because they don’t have benefits at work.
“There are so many uninsured people from 50 to 65 who cannot get insurance. They have either been priced out of the market because of their age or they have a preexisting health condition,” Gentry said. “They will be definitely helped.”
Shoppers on the ACA Marketplace can compare plans and enroll starting Oct. 1. Plans become effective in January.
Open enrollment for coverage through 2014 closes at the end of March.