MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is in the Sunshine State to continue trying to inform people about the Affordable Care Act, which launches October 1.
“It is particularly difficult in some states where there is a lot of misinformation being circulated on a regular basis so we have a double challenge in states like Florida,” said Sebelius during a visit to Miami-Dade College.
Sebelius is facing an obstructionist stance from the Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott. Last week, the Florida Department of Health announced it would not allow trained counselors into local county health departments to help sign people up for insurance.
Sebelius dismissed the concerns as baseless, stressing that applicant information is not stored in a database, but is instead transferred instantaneously through a secure hub.
“Nobody will be collecting personal health information at all at any point along the way…they will not be storing anybody’s personal financial information. Verifying it yes, storing it no,” she said.
Democrats lambasted the move, saying it put politics ahead of people.
Political hype is ramping up on both sides of the aisle as the launch date draws closer. Democrats are pushing the law as helping millions of Americans get access to affordable health care.
Conservatives have lambasted the law and vowed to do everything in their power to make it fail including trying to slow its implementation by any means possible.
Getting the word out to Floridians will be a massive undertaking in a state that has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country. More Latino Americans are uninsured and eligible for coverage through the exchange than any other ethnic group in the U.S. In Florida, almost 580,000 Hispanics are eligible; and in the Miami area, two-thirds of uninsured residents are Hispanic and can take advantage of the exchange, Sebelius said.
Starting in October, residents looking to sign up for insurance can call a hotline, go online to healthcare.gov or the Spanish version, cuidadodesalud.gov, or get in-person help from a navigator. Outreach efforts will also begin soon at college campuses, community health centers, libraries, church groups and most pharmacies.
Still, Florida Republicans are vehemently pushing back against implementing parts of the law. Scott entered politics in 2009 running national cable TV commercials criticizing President Barack Obama’s health care plan. The state filed a lawsuit challenging the provisions of the health care plan just minutes after Obama signed the bill into law in 2010.
Earlier this year, the Legislature voted not to expand Medicaid to an estimated 1 million Floridians, more than half of whom are Hispanic. Lawmakers also voted to give up its authority to negotiate cheaper rates with insurers for two years.
That decision “really puts Florida consumers at great risk and unfortunately we don’t have the authority to step in,” Sebelius said.
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