Carlos Ortiz was grateful that there were navigators available today, the last day to sign up without incurring a financial penalty for not having health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
The 21-year-old Hillsborough Community College student went to heatlhcare.gov in January to sign up for for a plan, but was told that he was "unqualified." Despondent, he said that he was resigned to taking a hit from the IRS, but his mother cajoled him not to give up, which is why he was at the Hunt Center at Al Lopez Park this morning to talk with somebody one-on-one about his chances of getting on Obamacare.
"I definitely need it. I’ve been without insurance for four years now," he said while waiting to see a navigator.
Ignacio Falcon from Land O' Lakes was also filling out paperwork to see a navigator. Laid off three weeks ago from Office Max, Falcon hadn't been concerned about getting health insurance since he already had it. But then he lost his job, and the healthcare benefits attached to it. And with a wife and two kids at home, he too was grateful that the ACA was an option for him.
The Hunt Center is one of several "super" enrollment events taking place in Tampa and around the country today, and was where Congresswoman Kathy Castor and Tampa City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda held a news conference to get out the word that this was the last day until next November to either apply for health insurance or be subject to a fine — part of the individual mandate aspect of the plan long considered the law's most controversial element, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it constitutional two years ago.
"It’s opening day for the Tampa Bay Rays, but it’s closing day here for Affordable Care signups," Castor said to Miranda. (Both are baseball fans.) "Before you head to the ballpark, we want you to get covered," she said, emphasizing the need for those who were without insurance to sign up throughout the 15-minute press briefing. "If you’re in line today to get covered, or on the phone, or on the website, you’re going to have time to complete the process and pay your premium," Castor continued. "That’s the important thing to be asking your friends and neighbors. It’s like Election Day, if you’re in line your vote is going to count."
The White House acknowledged today
that a new technical problem was preventing last-minute users from signing up on the government's health insurance website. A spokesperson for the Health and Human Services department said that more than 100,000 people were using the system at the same time.
Joining Castor and Miranda was Sylvia Alvarez, who runs a nonprofit center in Tampa that helps first time homebuyers. She said four years ago she had to cancel her insurance policies at her agency because she and her husband were being charged $925 a month for coverage, along with a $1,000 deductible and huge out-of-pocket co-pays. She signed up to the ACA back in January, and says she is now paying just $350 a month for a policy "twice as good" as the one she previously had. "This healthcare act is the best thing that could happen for people with low means," she said.
Political pundits are speculating that Obamacare will be the bane of the Democrats' existence come November, but Castor initially responded to a question about that scenario by dismissing it, saying today was not the day to talk politics. Later on, however, she couldn't help herself, cracking on Rick Scott and the GOP-led state Legislature for failing to approve Medicaid expansion that would have provided an additional 800,000-plus people in Florida with insurance.
"For the six million families (who have signed up), this is a Godsend," she said.