Hospital executives told a visiting U.S. health administrator Thursday they’re concerned that a dearth of health insurance navigators in Florida will make it challenging for people needing help obtaining coverage as mandatory insurance goes into effect for 2014.
The hospitals want leeway to hand over lists of their uninsured patients to the newly hired navigators, who are charged with helping people apply for coverage. But because that might pose health privacy issues, it’s a question still under review, said Renard Murray, regional administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
On Oct. 1, online health insurance marketplaces will open, enabling people to shop for coverage and apply for federal subsidies much like they buy airplane tickets. The web address for Floridians is healthcare.gov, and accounts can be created now, although policies can’t be selected until Oct. 1.
Murray heads the Atlanta-based office that runs the U.S. Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program on behalf of Florida and seven other states. Murray appeared with U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Alcee Hastings at St. Mary’s Medical Center Thursday to take questions from health providers.
“We are just a few months away from seeing people who’ve never been able to get coverage finally getting it,” Murray said.
Consumers will have to buy their plan by Dec. 15 in order to have insurance in place by Jan. 1, as required in the Affordable Care Act, Murray said. In most cases, they’ll have until March 31 to sign up for 2014, unless they get married, lose their job or have another similar event, he said.
There’s a $99 tax penalty, or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, for not carrying health insurance next year. Murray emphasized that the Affordable Care Act will stop insurers from charging high prices or writing exclusionary policies based on a consumer’s pre-existing conditions.
With opening day just over a month away, the hospitals would like a green light to share their uninsured patients’ contact information with navigators, so that those charged with helping people sign up for coverage and subsidies reach the people who most need help.
“There aren’t enough navigators to reach the people who will be interested in buying insurance on the exchange,” worried Don Chester, assistant administrator at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
“Hospitals know who those uninsured individuals are, and we want them covered,” added Robert Broadway, Bethesda Health’s vice president of corporate strategy. “Why can’t we hook them up?”
No one knows more about who’s sick and uninsured in their community than hospitals, Broadway added.
When it comes to the size of its uninsured population, Florida is 2nd in the nation, and is among the 27 states relying on federally facilitated marketplaces, Murray said. Texas is No. 1.
Almost 1 in 4 Floridians lack health coverage this year, according to newly released Census figures, but Florida isn’t accepting federal subsidies to expand its Medicaid program, the state-federal insurance safety net for the poor. Right now, it covers poor pregnant women, children and disabled people, but few others. Failing to expand Medicaid may mean over 1 million uninsured Floridians don’t get coverage next year.
Hastings, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, blasted Florida legislators for not working to expand health care access, and had choice words for conservative media personalities who are attempting to sow fear about the health navigators as agents of big government who will invade privacy.
“What these people have done is poisoned the well and made it incredibly difficult to implement what is now the law of the land,” Hastings said.
The Health Council of South Florida is working with the University of South Florida to hire many of the health insurance navigators for this region. Executive director Andrea Stephenson said the council is subcontracting with Planned Parenthood, the Palm Beach County Medical Society, the Urban League and the Sickle Cell Foundation of Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast to put “boots on the ground” during open enrollment.
Murray said the navigators all sign affidavits affirming they are dealing with private information and cannot share it.
Health exchanges to open Oct. 1:
* To create an account and find out more about subsidies and policies to be sold on the health insurance exchange, go to http://healthcare.gov
* A call center is available to take questions. Operators are available who speak 150 languages, including Creole. The number is 1-800-318-2596.
* A Spanish-language version of the health exchange is at www.cuidadodesalud.gov/
* The health insurance exchanges don’t open for business until Oct. 1, but consumer accounts can, and probably should be, created now.
* There’s a new call center for small businesses with health exchange questions. The number is 1-800-706-7893.
* Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees can also buy insurance at http://healthcare.gov. Tax credits are available for businesses with fewer than 25 full-time equivalents. The tax credits are worth up to half the cost of the premium.