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Despite Snub, FL Gets Jobs, Cash From 'Obamacare'

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Associated Press
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Even though Florida officials tried to block the implementation of the Affordable Care Act at every turn over the past three years, the state will gain millions in grants and hundreds of new jobs this year from its implementation.

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced it will offer $8 million in grants to 48 community health centers in the state to help them enroll uninsured Floridians in insurance plans under the Act, also known as "Obamacare," beginning Oct 1. Other non-profits can apply for similar grants through a program for ACA navigators.

And according to Kaiser Health News, Florida is one of six states that will share 9,000 new call-center jobs to aid in the enrollment. It is not clear how many of the jobs will come to Florida.

The jobs will be added to a Tampa call center operated under a federal contract by Vangent, a General DynamicsInformation Technology subsidiary.

Operators at the call centers, which already handle questions about Medicare, are to be trained to help enroll uninsured individuals and families  in a choice of plans to be made available Oct. 1 on an online "marketplace." Details about the plan choices are not yet available.

The call centers, which will operate around the clock when the enrollment period begins, are designed to handle the 34 states -- including Florida -- that are relying on the federal government to provide an "exchange" or "marketplace."  Sixteen states decided to develop their own online enrollment.

The operators will also help enrollees obtain up-front tax credits -- essentially the same as price discounts -- for those who qualify under the health law. A majority of Florida's uninsured residents are projected to be in the income range that will qualify for subsidies.

$8 Million for Health Centers

The grants announced Thursday that are available to 48 community health centers in Florida are part of $150 million nationwide for in-person enrollment assistance for the uninsured, Kaiser Health News reports.

The list of community health centers in Florida that are eligible to apply for the grants is posted on the Health Resources and Services Administration web site. Applications are due the end of this month.

A federally built online shopping site for the uninsured to enroll in a health plan is supposed to be ready by Oct. 1 for states that have decided not to build their own, including Florida. The coverage would begin Jan. 1.  The rapid ramp-up has raised questions on whether the marketplace will be ready by Oct. 1, but USA Todayreported Friday that unnamed officials are sending signals of reassurance.

To be sure, many of the uninsured will be able to handle the enrollment process on their own, after years of booking travel online or ordering books from Amazon.

But others may need face-to-face assistance. Because community health centers are accustomed to dealing with uninsured patients, they would be a good place for that help to be provided, officials said.

Who Can Get Help?

Those who receive health coverage through their employers will not be eligible for help through the marketplace unless their incomes are so low they can't afford the premiums. (And in such cases, the employer may be subject to a penalty).

The subsidies for low- and modest-income applicants come in the form of up-front tax credits, on a sliding scale.  They are available to uninsured individuals and families with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

For an individual, 100 percent of the poverty level would  be about $11,500 and for a family of four, it would be about $23,500, according to a chart published by Families USA. Those applicants would receive the largest subsidies.

An income of 400 percent of the poverty level would be just under $46,000 for one person and more than $94,000 for a family of four, the chart shows. At that income range, the insurance discounts would be the smallest.

No subsidies are available for uninsured persons with incomes below the poverty level because the ACA anticipated they would become enrolled in an expansion of Medicaid. However, the Supreme Court ruled -- in a case against the law in which Florida acted as a lead plaintiff -- that states could not be forced to participate in the expansion.

Even though Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Senate supported a plan that could have covered more than 1.1 million uninsured in the state using an estimated $51 billion in federal funds, theFlorida House opted out in the session that ended last week.

People who are already insured through their employers, the military, or some other method can keep that coverage as long as it meets the minimum requirements under the ACA.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.