Open enrollment for health insurance plans in the Affordable Care Act marketplace for 2019 coverage started Thursday and consumers will have less help navigating several changes that were put in place.
Florida has traditionally led the nation in enrollment, with about 1.7 million enrolled in plans this year.
But federal funding for navigators who help people sign up in Florida was cut from $4.5 million last year to $1.25 million this year.
Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids and Families, said they can now only afford in-person navigators in about half of Florida's counties.
"But we are providing enrollment assistance in all 67 counties by way of virtual, as well as over the phone appointments,” Ray said. “So we are open to everybody around the state who needs help, to the extent that we humanly can do it."
Brittany Wren, 29, is one of the people who came to Ray’s “NavLab” open enrollment event on Thursday at the University of South Florida. A recent divorce left her without insurance, and a basic doctor visit cost her $200.
“I’m not educated on any of this stuff so I came in here to get a better idea of what I’m doing,” Wren said. “The whole thing is overwhelming … but it’s a lot easier to have someone walk you through it than to do it independently.”
Ray said it's hard to predict how the funding cuts for navigators will affect enrollment numbers this year. Open enrollment runs through Nov. 15.
Consumers no longer face a penalty for failing to purchase insurance in 2019. They also have the option to purchase short-term health insurance coverage.
Those plans don't have the same coverage requirements and consumer protections as plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act, but their low monthly premiums could make them attractive to younger, healthier people, despite their high deductibles.
Ray said people should make sure they know what they are buying.
"People need to be aware that those plans are not the same kinds of health insurance, that often times they don't cover preexisting conditions, that there may be some limits in there," she said.
She says unlike Obamacare plans, the short-term plans also don't cover normal doctor visits and preventative care.
You can contact the Florida Covering Kids & Families' Navigator program’s office by visiting the USF Health Insurance Marketplace Navigator Program. To make an appointment call (877) 813-9115 or click here.