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Local News

ACA Open Enrollment Begins Without Navigators

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Open enrollment for buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange begins this week. But there will be no local health insurance navigators this year to help walk you through the process.

It’s no secret that Congress and the president have tried and failed a number of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. However, they have succeeded in slowly chipping away parts of the law that make it easier for customers to shop for health insurance. Last year the open enrollment period was cut to six weeks and the budget for outreach was also slashed. This year, there have been more cuts, including a massive cut to the health insurance navigator program.

"It was probably about an 80 percent cut in funding," said Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids and Families at the University of South Florida. They received and provided the bulk of the funding for navigators in the state, including 90 Works in Pensacola.  Two years ago their navigator budget was just under $6 million. This year it is down to $1.2 million. "It's a real challenge to figure out how (we can) still manage to provide navigator services across the state of Florida in probably the most efficient way we could think of." And the most efficient way included eliminating all navigators in the western panhandle.

In past years, The Epilepsy Foundation and 90 Works have provided in-person navigator services in our region to people shopping for health insurance through the exchange. 90 Works has completely shuttered its navigator program and the Epilepsy Foundation has a small budget for their program which is centered in South Florida. The same is true for USF. Jodi Ray says they still have some staff for in-person assistance in parts of the state. "We have some navigators in the Jacksonville area. We have staff in Tallahassee. He travels west, not all the way to Pensacola but in parts of the panhandle. So (we have navigators) up to the top of the state, just not all the way west. And then we have some navigators as far south as South Florida in Miami and that area."

Despite being one of the states that has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the law continues to be a Florida success story. "The state of Florida has been able to enroll more people in the health insurance marketplace each year of open enrollment than any other state. So the approach to doing enrollment assistance and getting people (covered) has been outstandingly successful (for Florida compared with the rest of the country). A lot of that has to do with the outstanding team of navigators that have been on the ground."

Open enrollment this year begins this Thursday, November 1, and runs until December 15. Health insurance will be available at healthcare.gov. If you need assistance shopping for the best coverage for your family, go to florida.org and look for 'find local help,' or call 877-813-9115.