Obama Pushing To Find, Enroll The Uninsured

Nov 5, 2015
Originally published on November 6, 2015 3:13 pm

President Barack Obama’s administration is battling its own success with health insurance enrollment.

It’s been nearly three years since Americans started signing up on insurance exchanges like HealthCare.gov; 17.6 million more people across the nation are covered.

The administration knows that as it launches another open-enrollment period, finding the uninsured is more difficult than ever. And Obama and his team are using a full-court press to increase its numbers in cities from Tampa to Seattle.

In interviews with WUSF on Thursday, the President and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell highlighted the affordability of health plans for low- and middle-income Americans, and issued what it calls the "White House Healthy Communities Challenge." Obama is asking 20 U.S. cities to top one another in health care enrollment for the three-month period ending Jan. 30, 2016.

In exchange, the winning city gets "bragging rights" and a visit from Obama himself.

The White House said in a statement it is asking community groups to reach out to the uninsured – reminding them that the marketplaces provide tax credits for monthly premiums to people whose income falls between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

It’s not exactly clear why Tampa was selected for the challenge. However, Florida is the third most populous state in the nation, and includes 2.8 million uninsured residents, according to estimates from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The state has been among the most successful in enrolling people on the federal HealthCare.gov marketplace – the enrollment exchange for several dozen states.  As of June 30, 1.3 million Floridians had purchased a plan on the exchange, the White House said in a statement.

Despite that success, Tampa and Florida – where more than 15 percent of residents remain uninsured -  face significant challenges in increasing its numbers of people with health coverage.

First, an estimated 800,000 Floridians without insurance fall into a ‘coverage gap.’ Their income is too low to qualify for tax credits, and for the past three years, the Republican-led Florida legislature has declined to expand its Medicaid program to include those individuals. The issue appears unlikely to be considered by state lawmakers in 2016.

And while the affordability of plans in Tampa is a feature administration officials highlighted during interviews Thursday at the White House, other parts of the state are reporting increases in premium costs.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation estimates that overall, marketplace plan costs will rise 9.5 percent in 2016. However, that estimate does not take into account subsidies someone may qualify for because of their income and how that would lower the consumer’s costs.

Another issue state lawmakers are wrangling with is the issue of narrowing networks. Insurers are offering fewer doctors, practitioner and facility options for consumers in their plans. As a result, consumers with plans are discovering they can’t find a doctor who falls in network.

Mary Shedden reports for WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is part of Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.