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500K Floridians Could Get Free Health Insurance As Special Enrollment Begins

Graphic that shows 550,000 Floridians eligible for free insurance through ACA (Kaiser Family Foundation)
Kaiser Family Foundation
According to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation there are more than 550,000 Floridians who are still eligible for a free health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act.

Studies show that nearly 2 million uninsured Floridians are eligible for subsidized health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Starting Monday, Floridians can sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

President Joe Biden announced the three-month special enrollment period during his first days in office, and has included $50 million to promote enrollment and support counselors who will help people navigate the sign-up process.

Late last year, 2.1 million people in Florida signed up during the traditional enrollment period. But another nearly 2 million residents remain uninsured and eligible for subsidized health care coverage.

Health News Florida's Julio Ochoa spoke with Florida Blue Market President David Pizzo about what it will take to reach eligible Floridians during the special enrollment period.

Can you start by talking about what Florida Blue is doing to prepare for this special enrollment period?

We're really excited about this special enrollment period. There are estimated to be 1.8 million Floridians who are uninsured today, even though they qualify for financial assistance, and about half of them don't even know they can get coverage at little or no cost. So we're excited about having an opportunity to get the word out.

That is amazing, isn't it, that there's 1.8 million people who could qualify for low cost insurance or no cost? A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that even after open enrollment took place, there's still over 500,000 people that could get free insurance through a bronze plan. So do you expect to get a lot of those people enrolled during this period?

We're hoping, you know, it's going to take an all-out effort to do that. What the administration is doing, they've allocated $50 million in their budget to help get the word out. So we're hoping between the governmental and agencies’ work to get that word out, combined with our all-out effort to get Florida covered, that we can reach a lot of people that may not have known this before.

You mentioned the $50 million that the Biden Administration has put forth to help out with the advertising initiative. In the past, that has been cut for efforts to get out the word and pay for navigators and that kind of thing. How significant is that in attempts to get more people covered?

Well, I can't say exactly what with the $50 million will do and how they're going to spend it. So, more is better than none. So, $50 million is, I think, a good step in the right direction. But we're all waiting to hear what is going to be done with that. And specifically in Florida, how that's going to be used, whether it's for advertising campaigns, or to support navigators. Even though we're very happy that this special enrollment period goes for three months, that'll go very quickly. So the longer it takes to gear up a group of navigators, the less effective it can be. We've heard through some of the information from a Kaiser Family Foundation report, that just over half of consumers who looked for coverage during the open enrollment period for 2020 encountered difficulties. So there's probably a lot of different reasons for that. But it points to this being a great opportunity for people who had difficulties maybe couldn't get it, they have now a three-month period to learn more and to enroll in coverage.

There's an open enrollment period for a reason, right? People who don't have insurance can sign up and if you want to change your insurance, you can sign up during this annual open enrollment period. Do insurers, consider a special enrollment period to be a good thing if people can now jump on after the enrollment period has closed?

Well, we've had a special enrollment period in place every year: If you change jobs, move from county to county, had a significant change in your income, there are a lot of rules around that. And that seems to work pretty well. I think this being a truly special, special enrollment period, if there was an extra "s" on there. We're in unprecedented times with a pandemic. People are hurting. Businesses have been hurting particularly in certain industries, and people do need coverage. So we view that as a very positive thing this year at this point in time. I don't know about long-term. That's a whole model and ecosystem that's built around affordability. And it's something that we and the industry are still trying to work on, helping make coverage, health care as affordable as possible. So I don't know, but right now at this point in time, we're viewing it as a good thing to give people an option that they didn't know they had before.

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