A national movement to find the uninsured and get them plugged into benefits under the Affordable Care Act kicked off Tuesday night at a house party in Tampa.
The Harbour Island get-together, which attracted about 30 volunteers, was the first official event in the nation for Get Covered, America, organizers said. Other Get Covered events are scheduled for Wednesday in Phoenix, Ariz., and Austin, Texas. The official launch of the enrollment effort is Saturday.
Organizers at the Tampa meeting said Get Covered volunteers need to help their friends, neighbors and community become educated about the federal online shopping site that will open Oct. 1 for 2014 coverage.
“We hope to build an army of volunteers,” said Nicholas Duran, state director for the campaign, who drove up for the meeting from South Florida.
There is no way for the small staff to reach all the uninsured in the state on their own, he said.
Other Florida cities are planning events in the next few days, including Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando, Fort Walton Beach, Brandon and Plantation. See the schedule here.
Even as the Tampa event was unfolding, Enroll America and other groups were telling the national media about the grass-roots efforts and a planned advertising campaign to begin this summer, as the Associated Press reports.
Also, the Government Accountability Office raised some questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to meet the Oct. 1 go-live date, the Associated Press reports.
In Florida the online shopping site -- often called the “exchange” but formally named “the Marketplace” – will be federally operated; 10 companies have applied to sell products, as Health News Florida recently reported. The decision on which ones can compete on Florida’s Marketplace will be released in mid-August, according to federal officials.
But consumer advocates say there is no time to waste in educating the public. The sponsor of Get Covered, America, a Washington, D.C., non-profit called Enroll America, found in a survey of uninsured persons that 78 percent did not know about the health insurance sign-up sites that are part of the Affordable Care Act.
“Our role is to find and educate people (who need coverage),” said organizer Jimmy Tan of Tampa. “When it comes time to get a plan and enroll, we’ll turn them over to others,” people who have special training in health-insurance and Marketplace enrollment, he said.
While the health law was signed in April 2010 and went into effect later that year, the most controversial provisions were delayed until Jan. 1, 2014. Those include the requirement or “mandate” to buy coverage, which applies to those who don’t get it from an employer, union, the government, or some other source. Another key provision that was delayed is The Marketplace, the site where a state’s plans can be compared, along with tax credits for many of the shoppers. Some states have built their own; Florida did not.
Tan said there are four key messages for volunteers to convey to the uninsured about what the Affordable Care Act will do as of Jan. 1:
--All insurance plans will have to cover the services most patients need: doctor visits, hospitalization, maternity and emergency room care, and prescriptions.
--Those who have a pre-existing medical condition cannot be denied coverage.
--Many of the uninsured will be able to get financial help to pay for a plan. Tax credits are available to those who have incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, on a sliding scale. (See chart).
--All the plans will have to show in simple, clear language what they cover and what it costs.
The house party drew a number of people from health professions -- nurse practitioners, a pharmacist, a social worker and a couple of people from the Hillsborough County Health Department – although none of those in attendance identified themselves as a physician.
Many said they had been volunteers in the Obama Presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012. However, organizer Raymond Paultre from South Florida told them to forget about politics. Enroll America, as a non-profit, must welcome all.
Besides, he said, “Health insurance in this country is not a partisan issue. We want to make sure we do not get bogged down in politics. Our organization is successful when we get people in Florida insured.”
The official launch on Saturday of Get Covered, America will mark 100 days until the Oct. 1 opening of the marketplaces in all the states. Those who want to volunteer or get more information can find it at www.GetCoveredAmerica.org.
Organizers at the Tampa event said that Florida and Texas will get a lot of attention from Get Covered, America because both states have millions of uninsured persons and their state governments have chosen not to get involved in implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Neither state wanted to build its own marketplace nor expand the Medicaid program to cover the uninsured who have very low incomes but are not now covered. As a result, the uninsured who are below the federal poverty level in Florida and Texas will not be eligible for coverage either under Medicaid or through the Marketplace.