As home to nearly four million residents with no health insurance and state legislators opposed to Obamacare, Florida holds a large stake in the outcome of federal healthcare reform, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told students, local health officials and politicians during a visit to Miami Dade College Tuesday.
Sebelius, who spent her third day in a week campaigning for the health law in the Sunshine State, took a few swipes at Florida Republicans for “keeping information from people” and putting them “at great risk’’ when it comes to the Affordable Care Act.
But she said extensive partnerships with hospitals, community health centers, pharmacies, faith groups and nonprofits will help the federal government overcome Florida’s obstacles and spread the word about healthcare reform — especially the phase scheduled to roll out on Oct. 1: the federally-run online exchanges where millions of uninsured Americans will be able to shop for health insurance plans.
Sebelius assured the audience that the online exchanges will be ready on time. She said participating insurance companies all have signed contracts for the plans they intend to sell, and federal officials are now double-checking those plans and rates to ensure their accuracy before posting the information on the healthcare.gov website.
“For the first time ever, beginning in October,’’ she said, “there will be a website available with side-by-side comparisons of plans that will be available in a particular area.’’
During her visit to Miami, Sebelius focused on the impact the health law will have on Hispanics, noting that a higher proportion of Hispanic Americans are uninsured and eligible for health coverage benefits under the law than the rest of the population.
She said about 10 million Hispanic Americans across the country are uninsured and eligible, including almost 580,000 in Florida.
The law already has benefited an estimated 910,000 young Hispanic adults, she said, who have been able to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans under a provision of the law mandating that insurance companies allow the benefits up to age 26.
But the bulk of Sebelius’s address was directed at efforts to inform Florida’s estimated 3.8 million uninsured and eligible residents about the benefits of the health law.
“The single largest challenge is to get information to individuals who may be eligible for benefits but really don’t know anything about the market,’’ she said. “In October, we begin really a six-month education and outreach effort.”
The sign-up period for insurance purchased through the new exchanges will run from Oct. 1 through March 31.
Among the partners helping to spread the word: CVS, Walgreens and RiteAid pharmacies, which Sebelius said will offer brochures in English and Spanish statewide.
Local health groups also are pitching in.
Joining Sebelius on a stage at Miami Dade College was Karen Egozi, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, which has received a $637,000 grant from the federal government to train so-called “navigators,” counselors who will help uninsured Americans in Miami-Dade shop for and enroll in health plans sold on the insurance exchanges.
Egozi said her group will train 50 counselors to work in Miami-Dade.