Farah Marcellus traveled half an hour from her home in Starke, Florida to the Millhopper Branch Library in Gainesville to receive help signing up for health insurance.
Closer health insurance enrollment options were available to the 37-year-old, but on Jan. 22 she drove the longer distance to meet with a health care navigator who assists residents with the enrollment process.
Marcellus said she was covered under her husband’s insurance until he was laid off. She tried to sign up on her own but felt the process was too confusing.
“I wanted to know how to get started on the health care,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it myself, so it helped a lot.”
Frederick West, a healthcare navigator stationed at the Millhopper Library, walked Marcellus through the hour-long process and signed her up to receive healthcare coverage.
Mandy Hancock, the community development manager at the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, said most people interested in health care just need someone to ask the right questions and consider all the circumstances for them.
The Patient Navigator Program, run by the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, provides a free navigation service helping people through the process of buying health insurance.
“It’s about coverage and navigation, but also education and motivation,” Hancock said. “Some people just hear all this talk about the health care act, and they don’t really know what to do about it…so part of our job is motivating them to take some action.”
Hancock said many consumers are not computer-savvy, so navigators spend significant amounts of time simply creating email addresses for users beginning the enrollment process. She acknowledged that the consumers consulting with the health care navigators have varying incomes, so not everyone has access to a computer.
Technological problems aside, the enrollment process itself can present the most difficult challenge.
“Navigating a bureaucracy in itself is an intimidating thing,” Hancock said. “You have all this paperwork and all of this different stuff you have to supply, and it can be really confusing.”
Hancock said the navigators work most often with middle-aged adults, but students who are not on their parents’ healthcare plan and graduate students seeking to enroll in the health insurance marketplace are common.
The services are not exclusive to Gainesville. The Epilepsy Foundation of Florida has offices throughout the state, including one in Duval County.
Viktor El-Saieh, the organization’s executive director of northeast Florida, said the Patient Navigator Program in Jacksonville is unique because it is run from a storefront in the Regency Square Mall and is partnered with the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.
“In addition to having navigators there, we also have people who are specifically enrolling kids in Florida KidCare,” El-Saieh said, “so there are kids getting enrolled when they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Florida KidCare insurance is for children 18 years old and younger.
The current health care enrollment period started Nov. 15 and ends Feb. 15. The Patient Navigator Program will be available until the end of the this period.