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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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USF, Pinellas County win grant to help navigate Obamacare

TAMPA — A University of South Florida program that has helped Florida’s children get health insurance for more than a decade is expanding its outreach to uninsured adults, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday.

USF’s Florida Covering Kids & Families program and 104 other applicants across the country have been awarded $67 million to help recruit and enroll uninsured Floridians for the federal Healthcare Marketplace.

More than half of the state’s $7.8 million will go to the Covering Kids & Families program, which is part of USF’s College of Public Health. The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners won the only other area grant, for $600,000.

The groups face a tight deadline, as enrollment for the online insurance program starts Oct. 1. Sebelius, who made the announcement at USF, said many grant winners are social service veterans who already know potential applicants in their communities.

“These are folks who have connections already,” she said.

The marketplace, or exchange, is the most high-profile aspect of the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires all Americans to get health insurance. It’s designed for the 20 percent of Florida adults ages 64 and under who are uninsured, and another 5 percent who buy their own individual health plans.

From Oct. 1 through March 2014, residents can shop on Florida’s exchange and select a range of plans offered by 10 commercial insurance carriers. Those who make an annual income between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level will receive some subsidy or tax credit from the federal government.

The money awarded Thursday will help train “navigators” in the Affordable Care Act and the insurance enrollment process. Sebelius said these in-person counselors and other call-center advisors must take a 20-hour online course and pass a certification test.

A dozen full-time navigators will be working in the Tampa Bay area, said Melanie Hall, who will oversee the Covering Kids & Families grant in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties.

Once trained, they will work with hospitals and social service agencies in each county to find and help individuals apply for health insurance on the marketplace, Hall said.

Covering Kids & Families already understands the complexities of health insurance and the struggles of poor and middle-class families, said Jodi Ray, program director of the USF program.

In the past decade the group has been key to enrolling the state’s poorest children in programs such as Medicaid, and helping families enroll in partially subsidized insurance called Healthy Kids. In 2012, that amounted to 1.7 million and 233,000 children, respectively.

“We have lists of families that we’ve been working with for years who are uninsured,” Ray said. “We’ve only been able to help their children.”

Ray said Covering Kids & Families will team with 11 faith-based and nonprofit groups for education and outreach in all but three South Florida counties. In Hillsborough, the United Way Suncoast, Healthy Start Coalition, Reach Up Inc. and the Hispanic Services Coalition already are on board to help, Hall said.

One organization helping with statewide efforts, Florida CHAIN, is best known for its political advocacy. But it will only work on education and communication efforts, said Donna Peterson, interim senior vice president, USF Health.

In-person counselors are not the only resource to help explain the online marketplace. Residents also can sign up online on their own or call a 24-hour call center with questions, Sebelius said.

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Twitter: @MaryShedden

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