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Health insurance navigators back to help sign you up

Healthcare navigator
Alan Diaz
In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, Certified Marketplace Navigator Nathalie Milias, left, of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, assists Miami Dade College student Alicha Theodore, right, choose a health plan after Theodore signed up for health insurance in Miami.

When open enrollment begins for the health insurance exchange next month, there will be additional help for people looking for the right policy.

Few programs have been as controversial in the United States this century than the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Over the past decade, Republicans have campaigned against what they call “Obamacare.” They have tried and failed to repeal the law dozens of times, coming closest in 2017 when repeal was defeated by a single vote. Now, with Democrats holding both houses of Congress and the White House, some of the cuts made to the A.C.A. are being restored.

“When we got this grant back, I decided to come over and help out with the navigator program again. I’m excited about it” said Cory Brown, the lead health care navigator at 90 Works in Pensacola. Over the past four years, the Trump administration cut funding for the navigators by over 90%. But in August, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Florida will get over $14 million in funding for navigator programs serving customers in the state. Last year the programs got $1.6 million.

90 Works, which was part of the navigator program before the budget cuts, got one of those grants and is under contract to run a local navigator office through 2024.

“We’ve already got staff hired to do the applications for those that (need) health insurance and, we’re ready to roll," Brown said. "We just have a lot of things this month to take care of before we can begin assisting people.”

While the Affordable Care Act is very unpopular in the Republican-controlled Florida legislature, it is very popular with people who live in the state. By a wide margin, more people get their health insurance through the A.C.A. exchange in Florida than any other state. For 2021, that number was over 2.1 million people. The next highest was Texas at 1.2 million.

“The open enrollment period this time around is November first through January 15th of next year. So people would need to enroll in a plan by December 15th to get coverage by January first” said Brown.

The navigators will sit down with a client and walk them through the application process, finding the tax credits that make the plans as affordable as possible for each client. Cory Brown says even if you have insurance through the exchange, it makes sense to sit down and find out if there might be a new plan being offered that’s a better fit.

“Because everyone’s a year older, they may have a change in income, they need to do an application again to see if they qualify for any more or less tax credits.”

There also may be changes in which plans are being offered in your county. Another change is the penalty for not getting insurance. That was zeroed out in 2019 and there has been no talk of it being reinstated. The pandemic relief bill that was passed earlier this year has also enhanced some aid for people buying insurance on healthcare.gov.

When 90 Works lost their grant for the navigator program a few years ago, Cory Brown stayed with the nonprofit in their veterans program. Now that she is returning as lead navigator, she is getting the band back together.

“We are actually bringing on another lady, Shelly, that was one of our navigators in previous years." Brown said. "And when we learned that we got the grant, we gave her a call, she was excited to come back.”

In all, there will be five navigators working out of the 90 Works office covering Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. It will once again become an important part of the organization’s mission.

“The navigator program does link in with the mission as far as how we maintain and try to obtain each customer’s goal for self-sufficiency,” said Rocky Harrison, the president of operations at 90 Works. “So with our self-sufficiency model of housing, income, transportation, health, safety and support, our other programs are able to help out and get the benefits through Cory and her team with this navigator program.”

One thing that has not changed is the state of Florida continues to be one of the few states that has not expanded Medicaid under the A.C.A., so many people will fall into what’s called the “Medicaid gap” and not qualify for any coverage.

You can contact 90 Works and find out about making an appointment with a health insurance navigator by calling 855-90 WORKS, extension 140, or email navigator@90Works.org.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.