Nick Fiorella Jr., a vice president at the agency, said in a phone interview that the company’s goal is not to confuse people. He noted that the company — after media reports of his team’s tactics — has changed its website to say it isn’t tied to the federal government and no longer asks for Social Security numbers.
So, why create a so-called “Obamacare Enrollment Team’’?
“We’re going into mostly urban communities and targeting people who haven’t had health insurance,” Fiorella said. “They associate these changes with Obamacare. That’s what they know the law as, and that’s the brand that has rolled out nationally.”
Jackson Youmas, executive director of a St. Petersburg nonprofit that works with HIV/AIDs patients, had his whole staff complete federal training to guide consumers through the marketplace. Youmas said he’s not surprised to hear people are being misled. He found a suspicious website even before the federal system went live on Oct. 1.
“I think it does open up an opportunity for people who are not honest to take advantage,” said Youmas, adding that consumers want to buy insurance.
“If they can’t get in [to the marketplace] one way, they might look for another,” he said.
Tallahassee Urban League President Ernest Ferrell, a pastor, agreed to host the forum at his church when Holmes reached out to him. But after reporters asked questions, he encouraged the audience not to share their Social Security numbers.
He pledged to look into allegations against the group, but stood by the Obamacare Enrollment Team’s mission. “The point is the information is critically important to the people that we serve,” Ferrell said, “and whatever we can do to get that to them we are trying to get.”
Indeed, numerous people in the audience said they need information about insurance and don’t know where to get it.
The need for outreach is apparent. Top Obama administration officials are being sent to Miami, Tampa and other major cities across the nation to encourage people to sign up through proper channels. Nonprofit organizations like Enroll America have dispatched thousands of volunteers across the nation to aid the effort, including a big push coming this weekend.
Melanie Hall, executive director of Tampa’s Family Healthcare Foundation, which received federal funding for 15 navigators, said her crew is doing its best to reach out — and make sure people know they are legitimate.
Her navigators wear name tags with small replications of their licenses. When the group is out at health fairs, it puts a healthcare.gov logo on its table.
Said Hall: “We’re going to make sure we’re well identified.”
Tampa Bay Times staff writers Alex Leary and Jodie Tillman contributed to this report.