Many Need Guidance as Affordable Care Act Goes into Effect; Northeast Florida Navigator Program Provides Information and Debunks Misinformation

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton

There are more than 350,000 people living in Northeast Florida who aren't covered by health care insurance, even though more than 82,000 of those people hold full-time jobs.

That includes almost 155,000 people in Duval County who are without health care coverage, about 25,000 in Clay County and slightly more than 23,000 in St. Johns County. It's those people who are expected to begin applying Tuesday for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Helping guide such people, many of whom have never had health care insurance, through the process of choosing and then purchasing an insurance plan will be the job of people like Joyce Case, a longtime Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida employee who for the next year will serve as director of the Navigator program in Northeast Florida.

In that job, she will lead the efforts to conduct public education and enrollment activities under the Affordable Care Act for uninsured residents and small employers in Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, St. Johns and Volusia counties. She'll be working with people who have an annual household income of 100-400 percent of the federal poverty line (that's an income of between $11,490 and $45,960 for an individual and between $23,550 and $58,020 for a family of four).

Case plans to have a staff of eight navigators who will have been screened, trained and licensed by the Florida Department of Insurance Regulation to guide people through the process of buying health insurance via an online marketplace that will offer various levels of coverage by various insurers. For the moment, Case is the only licensed navigator in Northeast Florida. But she has hired five others who are being vetted by the state and is looking at candidates for three other positions.

A website, healthcare.gov, has already been set up by the federal Department of Health and Human Services to provide education about how to find and purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, the plans available for purchase by Florida residents will go live on that site. There is also a toll-free line, (800) 318-2596, staffed around the clock, where people can get information about the law. Case can be contacted at (866) 295-5955.

The Navigator program has come under criticism from opponents of the health care law, who have questioned the roles navigators may play in gathering information from those applying for coverage.

In a letter to congressional leaders this month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott wrote: "The 'navigators' are moving quickly in Florida to collect personal information and sign Floridians up on federal exchanges . …