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Affordable Care Act

Demystifying Obamacare

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It's the law of the land, and by Jan. 1, 2014, most Americans will be required to have some form of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Yet, polls show many still are confused about the law and its implementation.

We spoke with Carol Gentry, founder and editor of Health News Florida, a subsidiary of WUSF Public Media in Tampa, for some basics about the ACA or Obamacare - and issues specific to Florida.

First Coast Connect: What should people know about the new insurance exchanges that will be online this fall?

Gentry: People need to shop around. State records show at least ten Florida health insurers have filed documents indicating they want to compete for shoppers on the Affordable Care Act marketplace when it opens Oct. 1.  Compare what's available to your employer's plan.

First Coast Connect: What about Medicaid expansion in Florida?

Gentry: Senate President Don Gaetz sent a letter in June to federal health officials asking for flexibility in designing a plan to cover the working poor under the Affordable Care Act that would not involve Medicaid.

The suggested plan that Florida House Republicans came up with last session would have left out most of those who need coverage and would have required extremely low income workers to make co-pays that would be beyond their ability.

As provided in the ACA, Medicaid expansion would have brought Florida an estimated $51 billion over 10 years, while costing the state little or nothing, studies showed.  The governor and Senate agreed to accept the money, but the House did not. Speaker Will Weatherford has resisted calls to rethink his stance.

First Coast Connect:  Florida residents without insurance are facing a January deadline. Let's discuss the road ahead.

Gentry:   The Affordable Care Act has made funding available to community health centers to hire enrollment and outreach workers to help reach the uninsured,  including $21 million in May to Florida centers. But the money earmarked for Florida is not expected to be enough to deal with enrollment in a state with 3.8 million uninsured people.

In states like Texas and California, the enrollers can help all comers because that state accepted federal funds to expand Medicaid. Texas and Florida were among 26 states that did not, which means enrollers will have to tell applicants who have incomes below the federal poverty level -- $11,490 for an individual -- that they don't qualify for any help.

Undocumented immigrants are not required to buy insurance under the ACA, but they also are excluded from tax credits and subsidies for coverage through the online marketplace and will not qualify for Medicaid in the states that expanded it.

You can see more information on the ACA and other important health issues at Health News Florida.

(This is an excerpt from First Coast Connection on WJCT public radio in Jacksonville on Aug. 13. Hear the audio version online.)