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Healthy State tells the stories you need to know to stay well, with a special focus on Florida.We'll bring you the latest fitness trends, new research on preventing and treating disease, and information about how health policy impacts your pocketbook.We report on health using all the tools at our disposal -- video, audio, photos and text -- to bring these stories to life.Healthy State is a project of WUSF Public Media in Tampa and is heard on public radio stations throughout Florida. It also is available online at wusfnews.org.

Free Health Insurance Awaits 700,000 Uninsured Floridians, Report Says

screen shot from healthcare.gov
About 33% of the state's uninsured could gain free coverage through the marketplace, a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation said. CREDIT: Healthcare.gov

Nearly 700,000 uninsured Floridians are eligible for free health insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The report, released ahead of the close of open enrollment on Dec. 15, shows that roughly 33% of the state’s uninsured could gain coverage by signing up for a bronze plan through the Marketplace. Federal subsidies would cover the monthly cost of the plan’s premiums for low-income enrollees but their deductibles would average $6,500.

Still, the insurance would cover the cost of preventative care for free, including yearly checkups, blood work and screenings, such as mammograms. Some bronze plans cover additional physician visits, the report said. Silver plans, which cost more per month, offer lower deductibles.

“If a low-income enrollee in a bronze plan needs a hospitalization, they will likely have difficulty affording the deductible, but the deductible will also likely be much less than the cost of a hospitalization without insurance,” the report said.

The report found that 694,800 people in Florida would be eligible for a free bronze plan.

Florida Blue, the state’s largest insurer, conducted its own analysis and found that roughly 970,000 Floridians would be eligible for a free plan, including 100,000 people in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

“They are not taking advantage of it,” said Christie Hyde DeNave, spokeswoman for Florida Blue.  “Talk to someone about what you’re eligible for. I think a lot of people will really be surprised.”

Both Florida Blue and the Kaiser Family Foundation based their analysis on income levels and the roughly 2.6 million uninsured people in the state. They excluded undocumented workers and people who are eligible for Medicare. Florida Blue also included people who are on temporary, or short-term, health insurance plans, which are not compliant with the Affordable Care Act.

Though the Affordable Care Act has been in place for seven years, awareness is still the number one issue why people do not sign up for insurance, said Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We know that when people know about the ACA they sign up for it and when people don’t, they don’t,” Slavitt said. “The very simple question as to why wouldn’t someone sign up for something that has no premiums that would make their lives better, that is demonstrated to improve life expectancy, has a very simple answer: Awareness.”  

Many who do not sign up are in marginalized communities where English is not the first language spoken, he said.

It hasn’t helped that the Trump administration has cut the advertising budget for ACA plans by 90% and slashed funding for people who help consumers sign up for plans.

Those who help people sign up for insurance are dealing with an uninsured pool that is constantly changing, as people who once had coverage lose it for various reasons, said Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids & Families at the University of South Florida.

“I’ve been enrolling whole families that had never been in the Marketplace but now need it and are shocked to find out that they could get insurance coverage and what that cost is for their whole families,” Ray said. “In fact they found coverage that was actually cheaper than what they had been paying out of pocket as employees.”  

DeNave, with Florida Blue, says people may not sign up year after year because they tried once and found they couldn’t afford a plan. But changes in how the government subsidizes plans have brought prices down, especially for bronze plans, over the past two years. 

“I think some people may just not know what’s out there,” DeNave said. “We’re really in this last week trying to educate people.”

So far this year, enrollment for 2020 plans is fairly consistent with past years. Through week six of open enrollment, which ended on Dec. 7, more than 1 million Floridians had enrolled in a plan. That is slightly more than had enrolled by week six of 2017 and 2018. Florida consistently leads the country in enrollment.

As in past years, about 1 million people are expected to sign up for a marketplace plan in the final two weeks, with much of that coming in the final days.

Florida Covering Kids and Families will provide phone and virtual appointments to consumers who still need help signing up for health insurance through Sunday’s deadline. Those who need help can call (877) 813-9115 or visit coveringflorida.org.

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