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Obamacare Canvassers Seek Out Florida's Uninsured

WebMD News from Kaiser Health News

By Phil Galewitz

Sun, Jul 28 2013

Spencer, a volunteer with the nonprofit Enroll America, was spending a hot and humid Saturday morning knocking on doors in this mostly posh South Florida city looking for people without health coverage. She wanted to let them know about new online insurance marketplaces that open for enrollment  Oct. 1.

The spacious house was on the Intracoastal Waterway, complete with its own boat dock. The woman who answered the door said she already had coverage through Medicare, and Spencer went on to the next house.

After two hours of canvassing, she found one uninsured woman and got contacts for three others. "It was worth it," said the 51-year-old insurance agent. "But next time, we need to go to a poorer area, or set up a table in the mall."

Spencer is one of hundreds of volunteers for Enroll America's "Get Covered America" campaign, which canvassed neighborhoods across Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and several other states Saturday to kick off several months of outreach efforts. The group, which is funded by health insurers, hospitals, philanthropies and others, has close ties to the Obama administration. It's trying to  educate consumers about new  insurance options and drive enrollment in the new marketplaces opening this fall for coverage that takes effect in January. 

The work is desperately needed as surveys show most people are unaware of the new marketplaces which will sell coverage to individuals and small employers and offer government subsidies to anyone making less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $94,000 for a family of four.

Leaders of Enroll America say its volunteers aren’t knocking on doors randomly but are relying on Census data and information from telephone surveys to pinpoint neighborhoods and houses where people are mostly likely to be uninsured.  But the canvassing in Boca Raton showed how challenging the work can be, in part because people move frequently. 

Florida is one of the target states for Enroll America because it has nearly four million uninsured residents, and it is relying on the federal government to run its Obamacare marketplace, and as a result has limited federal dollars for outreach efforts.

In addition to Boca Raton, canvassers Saturday went to 14 other Florida cities including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Jacksonville and Delray Beach. 

"We’ve been building our efforts on the ground in Florida to engage folks in their homes and communities,” said Nick Duran, who directs Enroll America’s operations in Florida. He said the group, which has 27 paid staff in the state, already has hundreds of volunteers and hopes to recruit a few thousand more in coming months.

"The way we gauge success is helping millions of Floridians who lack coverage learn about their new options,” Duran said. “We want to maximize the number of Floridians who sign up. That is our mission.”

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