Tampa Bay area health clinics get funding to spread word about health care exchanges

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Tampa area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor said that in addition to health care facilities, a number of major organizations — like the American Cancer Society, the American Health Association, Easter Seals and the NAACP — will also be working on outreach about the new health care law.

However, the biggest professional sports leagues, which have a direct pipeline to young men who will be required under the individual mandate of the law to sign up for health care insurance, will not be assisting in the efforts, despite the fact that the ACA is the law of the land.

That's because a number of high-ranking Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, warned the MLB, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, the PGA and NASCAR that promoting the health care exchanges would "risk damaging" their "apolitical" brands.

Congresswoman Castor said on a conference call that she doesn't think the leagues' lack of involvement is a big deal, and she believes that churches, community health centers, and "trusted" non-profits will have more impact than any professional sports associations would.

Castor was somewhat dismissive about last week's bombshell that the Obama administration would waive the employer mandate part of the new law for another year. Currently around 94 percent of companies offer health insurance to their employees, but many small businesses have chafed at the mandate that applies to companies with more than 50 employees working more than 30 hours a week.

Castor said the delay may have a special impact in Florida because of the tourism industry, adding that it is "reasonable to give those medium sized businesses a little more time."

Despite the fact that the law is moving forward, Republicans continue to challenge it. This morning in Washington, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he would hold the funding of the federal budget hostage until 'ObamaCare' is defunded.

Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Weekly Standard magazine, the senator said not only is the law bad, but "it is unimplementable," adding, "as we get to this continuing resolution debate, I believe that we should not vote nor pass a continuing resolution unless that continuing resolution defunds ObamaCare. You want to delay implementation? Don't fund it."

Although the employer mandate was waived and businesses meeting the requirement won't be required to offer health care insurance until next year, every other aspect of the Affordable Care Act is taking place as scheduled. So beginning in October, Floridians without insurance can apply to get coverage through new exchanges; the details of the health plans they can choose from is still being determined.

In order to get the word out and to help guide those eligible for coverage, the federal government is distributing millions of dollars to health care clinics around the country, including $930,000 to clinics in the Tampa Bay area.

I cannot tell you how excited we are to receive this money," said Pat Mabe, CEO of the Community Health Centers of Pinellas County, which is receiving $205,000. "We have really been preparing for over a year, hiring new people, getting ready to prepare us for the information that we need to give to our community, our churches, and our centers."

Denise Campis, who works for the Community Health Centers of Pinellas, said that through connections with churches, nonprofits like CASA and the Salvation Army, as well as KidCare and homeless organizations, she is confident they can reach a lot of community members about the opportunity to sign up for exchanges.

People can enroll for the exchanges from Oct. 1, 2013-March 30, 2014.

Florida is one of 34 states with a government that opted not to create its own exchange, meaning the feds will have control over it.

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