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Signup Efforts Get Creative

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act continue to push Floridians to sign up for health insurance, and they’re using everything from college computer labs to community carnivals as their enrollment hotspots.

Through January, nearly 300,000 Floridians had signed up so far on the health insurance marketplace, and updated numbers could come next week. Navigators are pushing hard to get last-minute enrollees in before the March 31 deadline. So plan to see a lot of events the next three weeks, something like Thursday’s “Nav-Lab Enrollment Blowout” at the University of South Florida.

Groups that had been working individually the past six months are teaming up for these “last-ditch” efforts to enroll the uninsured, said Xonjenese Jacobs, a navigator and project coordinator with the Florida Covering Kids & Families program.

The groups, such as Enroll America, Planned Parenthood and USF’s School of Public Health, are recruiting participants with traditional fliers, word-of-mouth referrals and silly social media efforts like a “Harlem Shake” video featuring USF students and faculty.

The efforts are working, Jacobs said. 

“It’s quite diverse, the people who we have seen coming in. We’ve seen students and staff from USF, community members of all different races, ethnicities as well as ages. It’s just a melting pot, which really is what Tampa is,” Jacobs said at Thursday’s sign up event.

USF doctoral student Tamina Johnson was among those signing up, despite Thursday’s torrential rain and a tornado warning in Tampa. The 29-year-old wants health insurance, but can't afford it on a graduate student salary. She qualified for a tax break equal to almost $200 a month.

“This way I don’t have to pay as much because I kind of need money to live on and eat with,” she said. “So I would rather be eating than spending it all on health insurance.”

Sign-up will be going strong up and through March 31, said Gerry Skinner, manager of enrollment counselors at Tampa Family Health Centers. She is preparing a March 29 community festival in Tampa, using free food, music and face painting to entice uninsured residents to show up.

Jacobs said the federal marketplace website,, and the phone line at (800) 318-2596 also will be up for individuals who want to shop and compare plans for themselves and their families.

“They can continue to call the 24-hour helpline to get information, to make changes, to make updates. It’s just a matter of making sure that you do it in a timely fashion,” she said.

“You’ve got till March 31, but you folks really shouldn’t wait because that’s when everybody gets to rushing.”

The Affordable Care Act is the focus of an upcoming broadcast of Florida Matters. And WUSF wants you to ask our experts the questions that matter to you.  Give us a call at  813-974-8652 or email us at  floridamatters@wusf org.

Mary Shedden is news director at WUSF.