By Mary Mayhew
Florida and the rest of the nation are hopefully turning the corner on the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. However, while case rates continue to drop and the state’s economy continues to improve, many people still face economic uncertainty and the prospect of lapsing health insurance.
Today, with the rollout of three safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, Florida is well positioned for a strong economic recovery. But, it will take time. Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, told lawmakers last month that despite improved tax-revenue numbers for December and an improved outlook for the hospitality and leisure industries, it may be 2024 until those industries return to pre-pandemic levels of activity and revenue.
For Floridians who lost their job or are in between jobs, figuring out how to get health insurance for themselves and their families can be a challenge and a significant worry. Having affordable and reliable health insurance can be the difference between successfully managing an illness and having to rely on hospital emergency departments when a condition worsens or becomes potentially life-threatening.
In response to the pandemic’s impact on the national economy and job market, the federal government temporarily re-opened the health insurance exchange, HealthCare.gov, where individuals can compare available health insurance plans, potentially qualify for substantial premium subsidies and cost-sharing help, and purchase coverage. Normally open for enrollment only in the fall or upon a life event (like losing a job and employer-provided coverage, getting married or having a baby), the exchange is now available until August 15 for people who previously did not enroll so they can find and purchase affordable private health insurance.
Florida has an estimated 1.6 million residents eligible to purchase coverage through the exchange, according to data analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of these residents also qualify for full or partial subsidies that reduce the monthly premium required. In the first two weeks of the special enrollment period, nearly 62,000 Floridians – more than any other state — purchased private coverage on the exchange.
Without health insurance, people who get sick, need medicine, suffer a traumatic accident or injury, or require medical treatment of any kind either forego care or rely on hospitals to provide that care. While health insurance does not guarantee access to care, it is an important determinant in access to timely and appropriate care. Numerous studies have shown that people without health insurance are more likely to delay health care or, tragically, forgo it altogether. The health consequences can be severe, particularly when preventable conditions, such as coronary heart disease, or chronic diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, go undetected.
Being uninsured takes a heavy toll on individuals and families. It has a cost for our health care system as well. Florida’s hospitals have an ethical and legal obligation to treat everyone who comes to them, regardless of their ability to pay. The cost of that duty is more than $1.8 billion in charity care.
For Florida’s hospitals, your health matters. And so does having an affordable and reliable source of health insurance and access to timely health care. The health insurance exchange is open for business until August 15. Let’s get Florida covered.