JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's just days away from the first opportunity sign up for federally mandated health insurance. The issue continues to be a political hot potato, but regardless of where you stand, you must be covered or face a fine.
The Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida is working at a feverish pace to get people educated so that they can sign up for the plan best for them and also to protect them from scammers.
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Forty-year-old Bethany Wade works part time for a pizza restaurant chain. She's uninsured and anxious about the looming deadline to sign up for something she calls "very confusing."
"I miss the days when the employer set it all out in the paperwork for you," Wade said. "You got stuff in the mail basically walking you through it. I don't think there's enough information."
That's where the navigators will come in.
"Navigators are the in-person assiters for any of those consumers that are more comfortable working with a person one to one, having some individual questions answered," said Nikole Helvey, of Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida.
The heat is on to get eight of them hired to work in northeast Florida. The council has back-to-back interviews set up in the next few days. While that happens, here are some important deadlines for you to mark on your calendar:
The online portal to sign up goes live Oct. 1. You'll have a chance to see the available plans and sign up.
Jan. 1 is when your new coverage kicks in, as long as you've signed up by Dec. 15.
You should have secured health insurance by March 31 or you will have a fine at the end of the tax year.
There's something else to think about. The opportunity for scammers is great. Every navigator will have a specific number and a photo ID, so you should ask for it.
Though someone may come to your door to give you information, no one is sanctioned to sign you up that way. Do not release your personal information to someone who comes to your door.
If you need help, you can look for a navigator.
"They may be as close as your neighborhood Walgreens," Helvey said. "We're identifying locations that have the facilities and the capability in place to host us; if there's a private room and meeting room, a clinic room, something of that nature."
Other places the navigators may be are churches and libraries. They're still working out where the need is greatest.
So far, the council has hired one of the eight navigators, but it says it has good candidates, such as retired doctors and people who have worked in the insurance industry.