Although there are no longer the daily stories about people struggling to sign on to healthcare.gov, advocates for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) realize that those problems depressed initial enrollment numbers, severely jeopardizing the White House's stated goal of signing up 7 million people by March. With 11 weeks to go before open enrollment ends on March 31, Health & Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made appearances in PInellas Park and Tampa this afternoon to highlight the coming deadline.
The news hook in Tampa was the announcement that the city is now opening up its nine recreation centers as satellite offices for people who want to sign up for the ACA.
"This is not a bill, this is not a wish, this is not a dream, this is not debatable," Mayor Bob Buckhorn intoned. "This is the law, and we are going to comply with the law." Buckhorn also said the city would also run public service announcements announcing the openings.
The mayor joined Sebelius, Congresswoman Kathy Castor and ACA navigator Joanne Reed in making the announcement from one of those rec centers — the Loretta Ingraham Center in South Tampa.
"It's a life changing experience for those who may not have health care at all, to finally gain access to health care," Reed said.
In her prepared remarks, Secretary Sebelius said that about 3 million Floridians, or 23 percent of the state's population, have no health insurance at all. If the Florida Legislature had agreed to expand Medicaid, an estimated 800,000 more people could gain access.
Although there may not be many problems left to report on the stability of the ACA's much-maligned healthcare.gov website, there continues to be criticism of the site's Spanish language site, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, which didn't even go live until December, two months after the English site went up.
"I don't think there's any question that there has been some delay in some of the Spanish features," Sebelius admitted. She said after the site failed to go live on Oct. 1, federal government officials intentionally delayed its outreach to Latinos until the site was up. And Sebelius added that HHS will work closely with national Hispanic organizations over the next 11 weeks to do some "very aggressive outreach" in the Latino community.
The Miami Herald reported today that the Republican National Committee is now running radio ads in Spanish in Miami on the ACA.
No one — not even President Obama — has faced more wrath and ridicule over the botched rollout of the ACA than Secretary Sebelius. She declined to comment on a question about her resigning her position, instead going into platitudes about how it was important for the media to get the word out that enrollment continues.
Before her appearance, a spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida, Susan Hepworth, issued a statement saying, "Kathleen Sebelius’ visit to Tampa today is yet another attempt to sell this terrible law which gets worse by the day. No public relations campaign can undo the harm that Obamacare has done to hundreds of thousands of Floridians and millions of Americans.”
According to city officials, navigators will be available from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on select dates each week beginning on Mon., Jan. 20, 2014 through the enrollment deadline of March 31, 2014. Listed below are the nine centers where residents can sign up:
· Springhill Center, 1000 E Eskimo - Mondays
· Loretta Ingraham Center, 1615 N Hubert Ave - Tuesdays
· Cyrus Greene Center, 2101 E Dr. MLK Jr Blvd - Tuesdays
· Jackson Heights Center, 3310 E Lake Ave — Tuesdays
· Hunt Center at Al Lopez Park, 4810 N. Himes Ave — Wednesdays
· Gwen Miller Center, 6410 N 32nd St - Wednesdays
· Forest Hills Center, 724 W 109th Ave - Thursdays
· Port Tampa Center, 4702 W McCoy St — Thursdays
· Copeland Park Center, 11001 N 15th St - Fridays