Local navigators advising on health
AVON PARK - Navigators or advisors at Central Florida Healthcare in Avon Park are helping people file paper applications for health insurance as glitches continued to plague the new online health insurance exchanges Thursday. "We have a lot of visitors on the site right now. Please stay on this page. We're working to make the experience better, and we don't want you to lose your place in line. We'll send you to the login page as soon as we can. Thanks for your patience!," stated a message on healthcare.gov's online portal for Florida Thursday afternoon. Stacey Leveridge, who is one of two navigators at the Avon Park clinic of Central Florida Healthcare, said he has been unable to access the health insurance exchange since it kicked off Tuesday, but he can advise people of their options and can help them fill out an initial application people mail in themselves. Once the paper application is received, health insurance officials directly contact subscribers to inform them of their plan options, premiums and subsidies available, he said.Central Florida Health Care has a total of seven clinics in Hardee County (Wauchula), Highlands County (Avon Park), and Polk County (Frostproof, Lake Wales, Dundee, Winter Haven, and Lakeland). Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave the non-profit group a $180,000 grant to hire and train the navigators. Six navigators, including two at the Avon Park clinic, will explain the types of coverage available and help guide people "to a plan that is right for them at an affordable price," states a news release from the group. "CFHC's counselors are trained to provide guidance and support to anyone seeking health insurance coverage and all personal information will remain confidential," the news release adds. "We are open for business and we expect to welcome many new families between now and the end of the initial Healthcare Insurance Marketplace enrollment period on March 31, 2014." To enroll for coverage starting Jan. 1, the deadline is Dec. 15. Open enrollment for 2014 ends March 31. Leveridge said they are taking both walk-ins and appointments. The Avon Park clinic is located at 950 County Road 17A W., Avon Park. They can be reached at 863-452-3000. Federal and state officials, meanwhile, moved Wednesday to strengthen the computer underpinnings of the health exchanges, which proved inadequate to handle a flood of consumer inquiries that began as soon as the system opened on Tuesday, the New York Times reports. Linda Hunt said she got as far as the final step for creating a login and three security questions. "Each has a drop down box that is supposed to contain the questions to pick from. There is nothing there," she wrote on Highlands Today's Facebook page. She did a live chat with a representative and was told the glitches were because of the volume of people on the site. "She assured me I would have plenty of time to be enrolled with affordable insurance by Dec. 15th, which is deadline to be covered by Jan. 1," she added. The site is open 24/7 so one suggestion she got was to go on at off-peak time. "I'm a night owl so not a problem for me," she wrote. Others who responded were not that patient. Tracey L. Tait-Brown said: "The website is flawed, just like the healthcare act itself. It doesn't work, has too many glitches to count, and you can't actually view the premiums. It won't let you go that far." Individuals and families will be able to choose from a variety of bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans, depending on share of costs covered, with bronze being the leanest. Catastrophic plans are also available for young adults and those without affordable options. Anyone wanting to apply on the exchange must provide some personal information, including family size, ages, annual income and whether they use tobacco. Those are the only details needed to determine premium prices and if you qualify for government subsidies. On average, individuals and families will have 53 qualified health plans to choose from in their rating area, states the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services. Highlands County, which is in Florida's rating area 27, has one provider offering multiple plans in the various metal categories. Counties in the more populated metro areas have more providers, more plan choices, and possibly lower premiums, information released by the federal government shows. Monthly premiums for a 40-year-old in Highlands County would vary from $238 for the lowest cost bronze plan to $304 for the lowest cost gold plan before subsidies are applied. It's unclear if tobacco use has been factored in these rates the federal department released recently in a report. For a 21-year-old in Highlands County, the rates vary from $186.74 to $238. After tax credits or subsidies, 56 percent of uninsured residents may qualify for health coverage in the health insurance exchange for less than $100 a person a month, including Medicaid and CHIP in states that are expanding Medicaid, the Department of Health and Human Services said in news release. Since Florida is not expanding Medicaid, state residents who otherwise would have qualified for Medicaid would not be eligible. However, these residents could still buy insurance through the exchanges but without any subsidies. They would, however, be exempt from paying any penalty if they choose not to buy coverage. Average subsidy information for Highlands County residents was not available. There were some comparisons available for larger areas in the state and the country. According to the report, a 27-year old living in Orlando who makes $25,000 per year will pay $102 per month for the lowest cost bronze plan and $145 per month for the lowest cost silver plan, after subsidies are applied. For a family of four in Orlando with an income of $50,000 per year, the lowest bronze plan would cost $126 per month, after tax credits, and $282 for the lowest silver plan after tax credits. Subscribers can still get insurance outside the exchanges, in the private market, but won't be able to avail of subsidies. Also, details were not available about the small business portion of the exchange, called SHOP, which won't officially launch until Nov. 1. SHOP will be open to companies with 50 or fewer fulltime employees, and starting in 2014 will be the only location where businesses can earn government tax credits for providing insurance. Also, the Spanish-language version of the website will not be ready to handle online enrollments for a few weeks. In Florida, nearly 580,000 Hispanics are eligible for health coverage through the marketplace, the Tampa Tribune adds.