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Florida Makes Spreading Word On Health Care Law A Challenge

Sep 18, 2013
Originally published on September 18, 2013 1:01 pm

At a community center named for Florida civil rights pioneer Carrie Meek, a few dozen members of Miami's National Church of God gathered over the weekend for a tea party — and to hear from a special guest, Monica Rodriguez of Enroll America.

The organization is working to spread the word about the Affordable Care Act, the federal law that will let people without health insurance shop for coverage starting Oct. 1.

"By a show of hands," Rodriguez asks the group, "how many people have heard of the Affordable Care Act, or know that there are changes coming in the community with health care coverage?"

Only about 5 of the 20 people sitting in the audience raise their hands. It's an indication of the challenge ahead. And state officials aren't helping.

Enroll America staffer Rodriguez can't enroll people in plans. She can only tell them about the upcoming deadlines and how to access the exchange. She's finding that many people are unaware of the changes coming and others are hearing bad information. "Some of the misinformation — that you have to belong to a particular political party in order to register," she says.

Florida is one of the states where elected officials fought hardest against the law. The state has refused to set up its own health care exchange or to expand Medicaid, even though it would provide coverage for nearly 1 million additional Floridians.

More recently, Republican leaders in Florida have said they have concerns about navigators, federally funded workers who will help enroll people in health plans.

"This is set to take place on Oct. 1, and our citizens need to know that that information that they're giving up could compromise their safety and security," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said at a Cabinet meeting last month.

Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott raised the issue with congressional leaders. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he talked about a recent incident in Minnesota where a man applying for a job as a navigator was mistakenly sent Social Security numbers and personal information of 2,400 people.

As navigators prepare for Oct. 1, the day they can begin signing people up for health plans, Scott's administration recently raised another obstacle. The state health department sent out a directive saying navigators will not be allowed to use any of its offices for outreach and enrolling.

"It's unfortunate that scare tactics are being used which may actually prevent people from getting healthy in the first place," says Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has been visiting Florida a lot lately.

She was here last week to announce a partnership with CVS Caremark. It's one of several pharmacy chains that have agreed to set up kiosks and train staff to spread the word about the Affordable Care Act.

"I'm hopeful that a county health department, a place where people go to get health care and stay healthy, becomes a logical place to connect with people who have coverage needs, who have questions," Sebelius says. "And we hope that the governor will reconsider that decision."

Sebelius says it's "absolutely untrue" that the privacy of consumers' personal health information is at risk. And she called barring navigators from health department offices a "disservice" to Floridians.

Florida's Health department is standing by its decision, but there are exceptions. Several county health centers across the state will help enroll people. That's because they applied for and received grants to help people sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Good morning. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. The Affordable Care Act - sometimes called Obamacare - included a delay before its most vital provisions took effect. The law was passed in 2010 but not until this October 1st will people without health insurance be able to shop for coverage in marketplaces called exchanges. States that support the law have spent the entire time since its passage preparing to create their own exchanges.

Other states where political leaders oppose the law took a hands-off approach and are leaving it to the federal government to educate and enroll the public. NPR's Greg Allen reports that that's the case in Florida and it's led to tension between state and federal officials.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: When members of Miami's National Church of God get together, you can expect praying and singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ALLEN: At a community center named for Florida civil rights pioneer Carrie Meek, a few dozen members of the church gathered over the weekend for a tea party, and to hear from a special guest.

MONICA RODRIGUEZ: My name is Monica Rodriguez. I am from the organization Enroll for America.

ALLEN: The group's name is actually Enroll America, but it's an offshoot of Organizing for America, a group that grew out of the Obama presidential campaign. The group is active in Florida, with 27 staff members, including seven in Miami alone. They're working to spread word about the new law among those without health insurance. The group's especially working to reach Latinos and members of the African-American community.

RODRIGUEZ: By a show of hands, how many people have heard of the Affordable Care Act, or know that there are changes coming in the community with health care coverage?

ALLEN: Only about five of the 20 people sitting in the audience raise their hands. It's an indication of the challenges ahead. There are about three and a half million people without health insurance in Florida. Between October and the end of March there will be a push here and around the country to enroll as many as possible in health plans purchased through an Affordable Care Act exchange.

Enroll for America staffer Rodriguez can't enroll people in plans. She can only tell them about the upcoming deadlines and how to access the exchange. She's finding many people are unaware of the changes coming and others are misinformed.

RODRIGUEZ: Some of the misinformation, that you have to belong to a particular party in order to register.

ALLEN: That misconception may grow in part out of the politically heated atmosphere that has surrounded President Obama's health care overhaul. Florida is one of the states that fought hardest against the law. The state's refused to set up its own health care exchange or to expand Medicaid, even though it would provide coverage for nearly a million additional Floridians.

More recently, Republican leaders in Florida said they had concerns about the navigators, the federally-funded workers who will help enroll people in health plans. At a cabinet meeting last month, Florida's attorney general, Pam Bondi, said she's worried about how navigators will use the information they gather.

PAM BONDI: This is set to take place on October 1st and our citizens need to know that that information that they're giving up could compromise their safety and security.

ALLEN: Earlier this week, Florida Governor Rick Scott raised the issue with congressional leaders. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he talked about a recent incident in Minnesota where a man applying for a job as a navigator was mistakenly sent Social Security numbers and personal information of 2,400 people.

As navigators prepare for October 1st - the day they can begin signing people up for health plans - Scott's administration recently raised another obstacle. The state health department sent out a directive saying navigators will not be allowed to use any of their offices for outreach and enrolling.

SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: It's unfortunate that scare tactics are being used which may actually prevent people from getting healthy in the first place.

ALLEN: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been visiting Florida a lot lately. Sebelius says it's absolutely untrue that the privacy of consumers' personal health information is at risk. And she called barring navigators from health department offices a disservice to Floridians.

SEBELIUS: I'm hopeful that a county health department, a place where people go to get health care and stay healthy, becomes a logical place to connect with people who have coverage needs, who have questions. And we hope that the governor will reconsider that decision.

ALLEN: Florida's health department is standing by its decision, but there are exceptions. Several county health centers across the state will work with navigators. That's because they applied for and received grants to help people sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.