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With Affordable Care Act Special Enrollment Period Underway, Insurance Agents In Alachua County Say Engagement Is Slow

North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville. (Victoria Someillan/WUFT News)
North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville. (Victoria Someillan/WUFT News)

Alachua County insurance agents are on a mission to help residents get insured as a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act is underway.

As a response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to reopen enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, for a special period that began on Feb. 15 and will run until May 15.

"There's nothing new that we are doing here other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring Medicaid to the way it was before (Donald) Trump became president," Biden said.

Potential clients who qualify for the special enrollment period are those who have had certain life events. This includes such losing healthcare coverage, getting married, having or adopting a child, etc., according to HealthCare.gov.

According to Jodi Ray, director of the non-profit Florida Covering Kids and Families, Florida led the nation with more than 2.1 million residents enrolled in a health insurance plan, during the last enrollment period. This ran from Nov. 1, 2020, to Dec. 15, 2020. An additional 62,000 Floridians signed up in February.

Gainesville-based insurance agent Kayla Silcox, who represents Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, and president of Robinson Financial Group, Marcus J. Robinson, said the spike in sign-ups for health insurance plans during the most recent enrollment period is due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic is still affecting people actively, and we're still seeing the negative effects of that in different areas whether that's loss of job, loss of employment, reduction in hours, a family member being affected, needing to take off work,” Silcox said. “People are becoming more aware of the need for health insurance.”

However, during the current special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, Silcox and Robinson are not seeing much reaction in Alachua County. Both said very few residents seem to know about this new wave of enrollment, and business for them has been slower than anticipated.

“If you ask the average American, ‘Hey, did you know that there's a new open enrollment, and you can get health care right now, for the next three months?’ Most people will say no,” Robinson said.

“There's a lot of either uninsured or underinsured people out there,” Silcox said. “I just think that we need to figure out how to reach them in this time of need.”

Silcox believes motivating Alachua County residents to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, if it meets their needs, must start with doing lots of research, finding a local agent to guide potential clients through the enrollment process or going to HealthCare.gov and connecting with someone who may help.

Robinson said being in the know is key during this special enrollment period

“Don't be afraid to go through the process,” Robinson said. “Once you know what your options are, you can make an informed decision based on the information presented to you.”

For someone who may have a pre-existing condition, the Affordable Care Act may actually be the only option for them because other private carriers may deny them for a condition they’ve had in their past, according to Silcox.

“They can't be denied because they're pregnant. They can't be denied for any of these factors ... for smoking,” Silcox said. “There are no health questions on the application, and so I think that is a significant pro to the Affordable Care Act.”

Both Silcox and Robinson stressed the importance of submitting accurate background information as potential clients sign up for the Affordable Care Act. These include questions about income, household size and demographics.

As a special enrollment period continues to be underway for three more months, both Kayla and Marcus have hope that more Alachua County residents will become informed and choose the health insurance plan that best fits their needs.

“We have over now 500,000 Americans that have died from this [COVID-19], so just take care of your health,” Robinson said. “Health is wealth. … Just make sure you're covered.”

Victoria is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.