Nonprofits Coordinating for Obamacare
By: John Dorschner
With less than two weeks to go before the exchanges open, Miami-Dade's nonprofit entities are talking about working together to get word out about Obamacare and the opportunities for the uninsured to obtain coverage.
"I'm feeling encouraged," Daniella Levine, head of the action group Catalyst Miami. Last month, Levine had complained "we are all up in arms" because South Florida had lost out on a major federal funding effort to pay for navigators, persons trained to help the uninsured get coverage under measures that take effect Jan. 1.
Levine said a key development was a coordination meeting Thursday in a Florida Blue conference room. The meeting was convened by the Health Council of South Florida, bringing together groups willing to work on the project.
"All the groups in town were talking about what they are going to do," Levine said. "Most are doing it without getting paid -- a volunteer mobilization effort."
That meeting occurred after Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, visited Miami and trumpeted how much the federal government is doing here to raise awareness in Miami-Dade, which has more than 700,000 uninsured according to the latest estimates.
Sebelius brought along Karen Egozi, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, which has received a $637,000 federal grant to train navigators statewide. She told reporters that 50 of the navigators are slated to work in Miami-Dade.
Levine said the volunteer effort wouldn't be as good as having more paid navigators, but some will become certified application counselors, meaning they can help people sign up through the exchange process.
Federally funded health clinics, universities and others are training staff to inform people about the opportunities of getting health insurance through the exchanges, where people cannot be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions.
Santiago Leon, a Miami health insurance broker and board member of the activist group Florida CHAIN, agreed with Levine that the county's efforts are at last stepping up. "Between Enroll America, the safety-net providers, the libraries, the schools, and whatever resources we get from the official navigators, I think we will be fine. It would be way better if we had Medicaid expansion because, as it is, people could be turned down for being too poor (!) and then tell their friends not to waste their time."
Insurers say the exchanges will work if both healthy and unhealthy persons sign up. Some critics are skeptical that the healthy -- particularly the young -- will sign up, meaning the insurers will be stuck with a pool of expensive patients.
HIALEAH A KEY
One key test will be in Hialeah, where the majority of adults 18-64 do not have coverage. Most residents work for small companies that don't offer coverage, and most don't seek policies on the individual market. Daniel Shoer Roth, former El Nuevo columnist, once wrote that many in Hialeah believe they don't need health insurance because if they get sick, "Voy a Jackson."
Miami's one bidder for navigator funds, the Health Council of South Florida, didn't get a contract. Last month, the group's chief executive, Marisel Losa, said she had "no clue" why the bid was rejected when the Center for American Progress had ranked Miami-Dade as No. 1 nationwide as the community that can benefit the most from the Affordable Care act.
Asked in an email last week whether she felt better after the Sebelius visit, Losa didn't respond.
For persons willing to volunteer to help in the enrollment process, Catalyst Miami is sponsoring a training session on Oct. 4 at Temple Israel. Levine said about 70 have signed up for the training so far. Register at http://bit.ly/18dGId7. For more details go to catalystmiami.org.