@PatriciaBorns Some 200 North Miamians took time out of their Labor Day weekends to attend a healthcare forum at Pentecostal Tabernacle International Church, hosted by Congresswoman Frederica WIlson, D-Miami. Armed with notebooks and lists of questions, they came not only out of loyalty to the congresswoman known for her liberal causes and hats, but also in hopes that the Affordable Care Act holds something better for them and their families.
"My sister has breast cancer and her COBRA insurance ran out," said a union shop steward for Local 291.
"I heard that companies may move their retired workers to the health exchange," said a former AT&T employee in his 50s who's enjoyed a generous retirement health care plan up to now.
Calling the Affordable Care Act the first major healthcare bill in 40 years, Wilson opened the forum with an anecdote about how president Obama "stole my line, 'Obama Cares.'"
Among the panelists, Florida Public Health Institute's executive director Dr. Roderick King called eliminating health disparities "the new Civil Rights movement;" one that will be "a long slog" to achieve in the U.S.. King spoke of collaborative healthcare efforts led by community members focused on a specific problem, such as diabetes; creating a support system for "the man who leaves the hospital, fills his prescriptions, and takes three buses to get home where there's no food in the fridge."
William Warren of Benefits Design Resources, an insurance agent in Miami Beach certified to sell health plans on the exchange, explained how people quality for tax credits on the health exchange based on income.
Annie Neasman, CEO of Jessie Trice Community Health Center,told attendees that her organization, too -- a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) with eight clinics in Miami -- could help people understand and sign up on the health exchange. In business for 45 years, Jessie Trice serves 30,000 Miamians a year, over 60 percent of whom are uninsured, Neasman said.
The forum which started at 10 a.m. ran into the afternoon as the panelists fielded dozens of questions, from "How will this affect my Medicare?" to "What remedies do people have who don't qualify either for Medicaid or the subsidized plans on the exchange?" (Answers: Medicare isn't changing - people on Medicare stay on Medicare; and there's currently no remedy for those who fall between the cracks unless the state expands Medicaid.)
Three of the panelists alluded to the recent $7.8 million in grant monies awarded by the Dept. of Health and Human Services for navigators: people dedicated to helping the uninsured apply for healthcare coverage on the exchange. Warren and Neasman both made statements to the effect that South Florida didn't receive any navigator grants. While not entirely accurate -- two organizations, the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida and the National Hispanic Council on Aging, received grants to deploy navigators in Miami-Dade -- Florida's most uninsured county by population density did seem to get shorted on its share of the federal funds.
Panelist Janet Perkins, executive director of Miami-Dade's Office of Countywide Healthcare Planning, assured attendees that her agency is working to mount a consortium of navigator organizations to request additional funds from the fed to support South Florida.
Eiither way, Congresswoman Wilson said, with some 44 FQHCs in almost 300 locations across Florida, "We'll be okay."