Dec. 15 deadline to purchase health insurance through federal exchange

Dec. 15 is the deadline for people -- not covered by employer plans – to get healthcare insurance for 2019.

There were 52,000 uninsured residents in Osceola County in 2017, according to the latest U.S. Census data. That’s about 15 percent of the total population.

People covered by employer-provided health insurance and those who get Medicaid or Medicare are not eligible to buy insurance on Healthcare.gov. It’s the online portal to get a plan and to qualify for federal government subsidies for purchasing health insurance.

The program aims to increase insurance coverage and improve overall health for Americans. It’s often called “Obamacare” because it was championed by former President Barack Obama. However, the insurance plans people can buy on Healthcare.gov are offered by private companies, not the federal government – from Blue Cross Blue Shield to Ambetter from Sunshine Health, which expanded into Osceola last year.

The Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010, established the online Health Insurance Marketplace, where people can purchase health insurance and apply for reduced-cost plans subsidized by the government.

Some states have accepted federal funds to expanded Medicaid as part of the ACA to help the working poor who fall into a health insurance coverage gap. It happens when people earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for Healthcare.gov subsidies.

Florida did not expand Medicaid, which to date, leaves 700,000 residents with no health insurance and few options for affordable care and prescription medication. In all states, including Florida, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP, provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

But the number of uninsured children is up, most predominantly in the 16 states that did not expand Medicaid.

The number of uninsured children in Florida grew to about 325,000 in 2017 from 288,000 in 2016, bringing the state’s rate of uninsured children to 7.3 percent, according to a recent report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Florida offers health insurance programs for children through Florida KidCare, which is a network of several programs: Medicaid for children, Medikids, Florida Healthy Kids and Children's Medical Services.

These programs are overseen by state agencies, from the Agency for Health Care Administration to the Florida Department of Health. The programs allow families to pay a reduced monthly premium, depending on their income.

A string of free and low-cost healthcare clinics for the uninsured have opened in Osceola the past few years, such as Free Clinic of Florida, which operates twice a month at the county’s Marydia Community Center. That clinic has established and is expanding a network of doctors in Osceola, Orange and Polk counties who will provide ongoing treatment for uninsured patients at their offices directly.

Many people who use free clinic services would either wind up at the emergency room or go untreated.   

 Healthcare.gov Info

Go www.healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325) for help around the clock except on federal holidays. Healthcare.gov representatives can help you directly or put you in touch with registered local insurance agents/brokers who can provide assistance, answer questions and enroll people buying healthcare through the federal exchange.