When the new online health insurance marketplaces open October 1, millions of people will be able to go online and buy insurance at the click of a mouse. The federal government has a website, health care dot gov, and a hotline people can call for help. But they'll also have people who can help face-to-face. They're called "navigators." US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius:
SEBELIUS: "These are individuals who will really be connecting people to coverage, and having that ability to do outreach to many people who really haven't had coverage before and answer questions and get folks information so they can in turn make good decisions for themselves and their families is really an important piece of this puzzle."
In Florida, several non-profit organizations are getting $7.8 million in grants to pay for "navigators." Sebelius also says there's funding for other outreach efforts.
SEBELIUS: This is a, I would say,a multi-part effort, where it won't just be up to groups that receive the navigator grants, but lots of networks. Every community health center now has resources to hire individuals who will be at that community health center, a logical place to say to people, if you don't have coverage, here are some options available to you."
Gerry Skinner has worked at Tampa Family Health Centers as a financial counselor for five years. At the East Tampa location, she sees uninsured people every day.
SKINNER: "I come in and then we help them. We do it as a courtesy to our patients, help them find insurance."
Uninsured Floridians who can't afford insurance or aren't offered it through their employer have limited choices for coverage. Some of the patients Skinner meets can get health care through Medicaid or the Hillsborough County Health Plan for low-income residents.
"If they're over the income limit, that's when we place them on a sliding scale and that's for all of our clinics, for any patient that walks in the door that don't have insurance or whatever, we'll put them on a sliding scale based on their income", Skinner said.
Skinner recently found out she's going to get training to help people sign up for health insurance once the online marketplace opens.
"It ties into my job and what I do already", said Skinner. "Because that's what I do, is submit applications and help all our patients don't have no insurance so this is something I definitely need to learn, especially all the stuff that's going to be offered to us now."
Skinner says the clinics provide care for patients who are able to pay on a sliding scale, but it's not the same as having a health insurance plan. She says that will change drastically come October 1 for many of her patients. That's when they'll be able to start shopping on the marketplace for comprehensive plans, ones that don't exclude people with pre-existing health conditions.
"All of our patients can have options", said Skinner. "They can have something else, they don't have to say, oh, we're only here on a sliding scale. They can finally get an insurance card that they're able to use and go to referrals and see specialists. When you're on a sliding scale, you don't have the ins to see a specialist. And a lot specialists they charge a lot of money for out pocket. So I can't wait for this Obama thing to kick in, I think it's going to be great. cuz for a long time, there really was not too much I could offer my patients that were on sliding scales over the income limit."
Skinner starts her special training on the health insurance exchanges next week.