Kathy Castor: Don't be scared to sign up for Affordable Care Act - Florida Politics

Kathy Castor: Don’t be scared to sign up for Affordable Care Act

On Halloween morning, Tampa U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said Americans shouldn’t be fearful about signing up for the Affordable Care Act, which begins open enrollment on Wednesday.

“Do not let them scare you away from affordable health insurance,” Castor said at a news conference held at the Old Tampa Bookstore in downtown Tampa.

Open enrollment runs from November 1 to December 15 — the shortest period to sign up for Obamacare since the marketplaces first opened in the fall of 2013.

That’s just part of what Castor and other Democrats have been calling the “sabotage” of the ACA by President Trump this year.

The advertising budget for the open enrollment period nationally has been cut to just $10 million, a 90 percent reduction from the $100 million spent by the Obama administration last year.

Grants to navigators — the folks who help people enroll in health plans offered through the insurance marketplace — were cut from $63 million to $36 million.

Jodi Ray is project director for the Florida Covering Kids & Families (FL-CKF) program at the Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies, USF College of Public Health. She is responsible for hiring and training navigators around the state to help adults shopping for subsidized insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

“We’ve got navigators all over the state of Florida who are on the ground and in the communities. They will be going to where people are, where they live and where they eat to help sign them up for coverage,” she said.

Adding to the general confusion about the ACA is the well-reported news from earlier this month that Trump has eliminated subsidies to health insurance companies that help pay out-of-pocket costs of low-income people.

Not to worry, insists Ray.

“Individuals who qualify for tax credits will still get their tax credits,” she says. “In fact, as the premiums have gone up, those who have qualified for tax credits will see their tax credits go up alongside that, so they will not be hit by those premium increases.”

Citizens whose income is up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level also will still get cost-sharing reductions, lowering their out-of-pocket costs for deductibles and co-pays. Ray says some consumers could see some of their out-of-pocket costs decrease in 2018.

“There are some gold plans that will cost some consumers less than taking a silver plan, just because of the tax credits,” Ray says, adding that citizens need to shop around for the best plan that works for them.

Those who don’t qualify for subsidies on the ACA, however, will see their insurance premiums rise next year.

Helen Kirton, a health care worker from Tampa and a member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), criticized President Trump’s proposed federal budget, saying that the cuts to Medicaid and Medicare “are going to be devastating.”

“I need medication to live,” said Dolores Grayson with Organize Florida. She’s on Medicare, which subsidizes the cost of the prescriptions drugs she uses. Without insurance, one of those drugs costs $600 a month.

Ray said she and her fellow navigators will be working harder than ever to sign up as many uninsured people as possible before enrollment ends in December, despite the $900,000 cut to her navigator budget.

The telephone number to call to speak to a navigator is 877-813-9115.

Getting into the Halloween spirit at the news conference was Tim Heberlein with the activist group Organize Florida, clad as the Grim Reaper.

“Do not let them scare you away from affordable health insurance,” Castor concluded, as she gave a wayward glance over to the personification of death.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.
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