Florida Affordable Care Act enrollment center to open in Osceola County
By Tiffanie Reynolds
To help Osceola County residents navigate the Insurance Marketplace, The Health Insurance Store in Kissimmee will be opening the first full time, independent insurance enrollment center in the state of Florida Thursday.
The Enrollment Center, an extension of The Health Insurance Store’s main office on 1007 E. Vine Street, will hold 16 certified enrollment specialists to assist county residents free of charge. Enrollment specialists can either guide residents step by step through the enrollment process or act as a resource to answer any questions about the marketplace and enrollment. The center is available to those who need to enroll for insurance or want to apply for a government subsidy.
“There’s a tremendous need to understand what’s going on because it is confusing. We’re dealing with people’s health, pre-existing conditions, budgets and we just felt like we needed to create an environment where people come in and feel very comfortable and feel like they’re being assisted,” Wes Fisher, president of The Health Insurance Store, said.
The enrollment center was created in anticipation of the Insurance Marketplace opening Oct. 1. It took the company five months to extend the office and train their insurance agents to become enrollment specialists.
Out of 16 certified enrollment specialists available in the center, 10 are bilingual, said Enrollment Specialist Juan Carlos Doitteau. With Hispanic or Latino making 45.5 percent of the population of Osceola County, according to data by Florida legislature last month.
It’s this demographic that will be impacted the most by changes through the Affordable Care Act, store officials said.
“Here, we have a lot of self-employments, a lot of people that the employer doesn’t give insurance, so the marketplace will have a huge impact in the Hispanic community. All the networking that we’re doing with the churches and community outreach is telling us that the Hispanic community is the one with the most need,” Doitteau said.
But, like millions of Americans in the past week, it will be getting into the Insurance Marketplace that presents the biggest challenge to the center. Days before the grand opening of the center, enrollment specialists were working with insurance companies to speed the process in repairing glitches in the system.
“It’s a three-step process,” Enrollment Specialist Skip O’Connor said. “We do the rating and any quotes for the client, we do the estimates for them to see if they are eligible for the subsidy, then, from there, we go in and find a plan that they’re interested in, then go through the federal government system through the participating insurance company’s site. Once they do that, we help them go in and put their information in. The site will tell them their subsidy and what their eligibility is, then kick it back to them to finalize the plan that they want.”
It’s transferring information from insurance websites to the Marketplace site and back that’s causing the majority of the problems, store officials said. If glitches still exist by the center’s opening day, enrollment specialists will only be able to help residents through the basics of enrolling until glitches are fixed.
Fischer also is aware of the center opening in the middle of a partial government shut down over the Affordable Care Act, but said that the change in insurance is needed. It’s also a change he’s welcomed to his field.
“We’ve been doing health insurance for 20 years, and a lot of that has been group insurance. So, over a 15-year period, I’ve been dealing with 12 to 15 percent rate increases to my clients every year. The current system in place is unsustainable, so something had to happen, and that something that happened is the Affordable Care Act,” Fischer said.
With the opening of the Enrollment Center, Fischer predicted to assist thousands in Osceola County, especially with Florida Public Health Institute reporting that 27 percent of county residents are uninsured in 2013.
For more information, you can reach The Health Insurance Store at www.healthinsurancestoreflorida.com or by phone 407-932-0023.