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Obamacare Florida ambassador describes busy week

A Florida "navigator," whose job it is to help residents understand and comply with the Affordable Care Act, described a busy but rewarding first week.
/ Source: Melissa Harris Perry

A Florida "navigator," whose job it is to help residents understand and comply with the Affordable Care Act, described a busy but rewarding first week.

An Obamacare ambassador in Florida said she spent the first week of the health care law insurance exchanges’ rollout just explaining basic insurance terms to eager participants.

“I thought that as a navigator I would be working with people with disabilities or who needed extra help or didn’t have a computer or Internet,” said Lynne Thorp, the Obamcare Navigator Project director for southwest and Gulf central Florida, on Melissa Harris-Perry Saturday. ”As it’s turning out, everybody is needing help understanding the marketplace in general, and many people have never had insurance before. So common terms like ‘deductible,’ ‘co-pay’ and ‘maximum-out-of-pocket’ are really confusing.”

Before the Affordable Care Act had even gone into effect, Florida Governor Rick Scott issued an order barring “navigators” from county health departments, where they would be helping uninsured residents sign up for health insurance. But some counties in Florida are refusing to comply with that order by opening other county facilities for navigators to use.

In order to work around the governor’s mandate, navigators in Florida are partnering with social service agencies like the United Way that are already connected with community members. The person-to-person assistance, Thorp reports, has been a critical part of rolling out ACA coverage in Florida. “People are really happy to be talking with people on the phone, in person,” she noted. Thorp explained that people frequently call with specific questions about whether they qualify for subsidies given factors like their income and how many children they have, or call asking if they can get immediate assistance for a pre-existing condition.

Thorp has worked with a volunteer group to distribute fliers about the exchanges to hospitals and social service agencies, calling their work “a grassroots campaign.” She hopes to see more television commercials in her state, particularly ones that clarify that the marketplaces are open for everyone looking for more affordable coverage, not just the currently uninsured.

Syndicated columnist Bob Franken noted that educating the public has also been challenged by how fervently Republicans have politicized the healthcare law.

“The Republicans keep trying to make the point that if you support Obamacare, that is a political act,” Franken said. That may deter politically right-leaning residents from enrolling, or even just seeking out more information.

Thorp reported that after Governor Rick Scott issued his bar on “navigators,” the job title alone took on a negative connotation. But she is optimistic about the exchanges and their ability to provide affordable health care to individuals in her state, although she sees that more outreach work is necessary.

“We really just have to start expanding our capacity down here,” she said. “And our awareness.”