@patriciaborns A standing-room-only crowd packed Hialeah's Latin Chamber of Commerce Thursday evening as state Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) and Rep. José Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami) kicked off a primer on getting healthcare coverage on the exchange set to open Oct 1. The audience representing South Florida's neediest was hand-picked to spread the word not only about the health exchange, but also about the need to expand Medicaid to the state's legions of poor uninsured.
"It doesn't matter if you agree with the Affordable Care Act, or if you don't. It's imperative that we accept those dollars," said Garcia, speaking by turns in Spanish and English and drawing applause for the bipartisan appeal.
Yvonne Hislop of South Florida Mobile Home Council, a disabled diabetic, sat in the front row in a wheelchair next to her son, 28, who lives with a bipolar disorder. Insurance companies don't want to cover him, and he's aged out of Medicaid, Hislop said.
Sardebra Wright from the American Postal Workers Union said she came on behalf of workers like herself who have health insurance but whose families often don't. Because of Obamacare, Wright's son was covered by her health plan when he was diagnosed at 24 with a renal disease. Now 28, he no longer has health insurance, she said.
A scattering of insurance agents also mingled with the crowd. Ana Rivera, an independent agent of iHealthQuote.com, said she's already certified to sell health plans on the exchange, but can't get details yet from insurers about the plans they'll be offering.
Mary Cabrera of Sunshine State Health Reform Advisors said her group sells health insurance across all carriers but is being courted to sell exclusively for Florida Blue. "We've been working on this for two years. We have over 60 agents and are looking to hire 22 more," she said.
Attendees scribbled furiously on notepads as Laura Goodhue, executive director or Florida CHAIN, and Families USA health equity director Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio rattled off the Obamacare basics in Spanish:
There are four 'metal' plans -- bronze, silver, platinum and gold -- that will offer different percentages of provider coverage.
There are specific income levels for individuals and families to qualify for premium subsidies.
There are important dates to remember when looking for coverage: Oct. 1 when the exchange opens to shop for health plans, Jan. 1 when coverage begins and Mar. 30 when the enrollment window ends.
The website for enrolling in the healthcare exchange: healthcare.gov.
And the toll-free enrollment number: 800-318-2596.
"Too much information," came murmurs from around the room.
But Wright's son and others represented at the forum probably won't earn enough to qualify for subsidized health insurance. That was the political point.
"It's important that you try to sign up anyway," said Cancio.
"I know it's complicated, but this is only the first conversation," Garcia assured them, then added, "If you take away one thing tonight, it should be this phone number."
The number, 866-443-1844, rings through to a legislative action hotline urging callers to tell their reps to support Medicaid expansion.