Penalties rise as navigator grants and workshops push health sign-ups

October 28, 2015

Penalties rise as navigator grants and workshops push health sign-ups

By Charles Elmore, Palm Beach Post
April 10, 2015

New grants for government-paid helpers known as navigators and 11 workshops starting Saturday in Palm Beach County form a renewed push to help people sign up for and get full use of health insurance.

If those things and subsidies to make premiums cheaper are carrots to encourage folks to get or stay covered, a federal stick to accomplish the same objective is about to get bigger.

The 2016 penalty for not having health insurance is growing — to $695 or 2.5 percent of income for individuals, or up to $2,080 for a family. That’s up from $325 or 2 percent for individuals or $975 for a family in 2015.

The Internal Revenue Service can take that money out of tax refunds. There are exceptions for those with low income or certain hardships.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services this week announced $67 million in Affordable Care Act funding for navigators across the country, including nearly $10 million in Florida. Among them is almost $1.9 million for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, which serves a group of counties including Palm Beach and Martin.

That money pays for navigators like Angela Johnson, who lives in Belle Glade.

“We’re trying to reach out to people who still don’t have insurance,” she said.

A federal breakdown of the grants notes her group is focused on “uninsured communities, targeting consumers of Hispanic, African-American and Haitian origin” along with farm and migrant workers among others.

“We’re excited to enter year three of helping Floridians discover their health care options under the Affordable Care Act,” said state Epilepsy Foundation CEO Karen Basha Egozi in a statement. “We’ve established the knowledge and cultural competency to help all communities get covered — especially those speaking languages other than English, who make up 40 percent of those we serve.”

Meanwhile, a series of 11 workshops is planned across Palm Beach County from Saturday through December to educate residents how to enroll in the health marketplace and gain maximum benefits. It’s funded by the Quantum Foundation and carried out by a coalition of groups, said Andrea Stephenson, executive director of the Health Council of Southeast Florida.

“We are going to improve health literacy in our community by educating individuals and families on how to use the health insurance marketplace to improve their health through preventive care, prescription drug benefits, and so many other benefits,” Stephenson said.

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