Hillsborough has a free well being care plan for residents who cannot get Medicaid. It wants extra members

Hillsborough has a free well being care plan for residents who cannot get Medicaid. It wants extra members

Ana Yanes was in disaster. It was 2019, and the kidney transplant her husband Daniel Torres had been dwelling with for a few years was failing. His well being acquired so dangerous, Yanes says he could not work. He misplaced his job, and with it, the employer-based medical insurance coverage the couple trusted.

Yanes says it got here on the worst doable time.

“Every thing occurred so quick,” Yanes stated. “I child you not, he misplaced his job June 28; by July 8 he was already admitted to the hospital.”

Yanes, 53, spent days scouring the web and making frantic cellphone calls to search out protection for her husband’s care. They did not qualify for Medicaid in Florida, but in addition could not afford personal insurance coverage.

Then the Tampa resident got here throughout the Hillsborough County Well being Care Plan. It’s paid for by a county gross sales tax and presents free care to residents with low incomes who cannot entry insurance coverage.

Yanes utilized and stated inside per week, she and her husband had been coated.

“They actually put him first, you understand what I imply?” Yanes stated. “With the timeframe, we had been operating out of time. Every thing was simply coming down, and he made it. It was a blessing.”

Daniel Torres died final fall, however Yanes credit the plan for the additional years they acquired to spend collectively. Now she’s utilizing the protection to work on bettering her personal well being.

“I miss him, but in addition now I’m targeted on, ‘OK, let’s get higher,’ ” she stated.

The way it works

As certainly one of 11 states within the U.S. that has not chosen to broaden Medicaid, Florida restricts its program to youngsters, pregnant individuals, caretakers of minors and a few seniors and residents with disabilities. This leaves hundreds of residents who stay on low incomes however do not meet the standards struggling to entry well being care.

The Hillsborough program presents assist to county residents who can’t qualify for Medicaid or entry different well being care advantages.

Many of the greater than 13,000 individuals on the county plan are middle-aged adults, in line with Philip Conti, Hillsborough’s well being care providers supervisor. Many lack steady jobs and housing.

“These socioeconomic situations put them at a larger danger of continual illnesses, not treating what it’s that they’ve, and likewise utilizing emergency rooms as their major care with no observe up,” Conti stated.

The aim of this plan, Conti stated, is to assist residents get wholesome and keep wholesome.

Sufferers select certainly one of 4 networks of native suppliers that embrace hospital methods and federally-qualified well being facilities. Major and specialty care is roofed as are drugs and a few dental and imaginative and prescient providers — all with no premiums or copays. Members also can entry health facilities and well being schooling lessons at county amenities.

“Within the identify of actually encouraging preventative care,” Conti stated. “After we take the power to repay the desk, we hope that folks will reap the benefits of that and use that to enhance their total well being.”

Man sits at a desk inside a health center and works on a laptop.

Stephanie Colombini


WUSF Public Media

Philip Conti oversees the Hillsborough County Well being Care Plan. Along with major and specialty providers, members can entry well being schooling and health lessons at county amenities, together with the Lee Davis Neighborhood Companies Heart close to Ybor Metropolis.

Getting the group on board

To qualify, individuals have to be Hillsborough residents. There are also revenue and asset limits, and the applicant can’t be eligible for some other well being care packages.

This yr, Hillsborough expanded eligibility to residents incomes as much as 175% of the federal poverty degree. For a single-person family, that is about $1,900 a month.

All of that is paid for with a half-cent gross sales tax the county has been utilizing for the reason that program was created within the early Nineties.

Jay Wolfson, a public well being professor and senior affiliate dean on the College of South Florida’s Morsani Faculty of Drugs, helped get it off the bottom.

“That was an academic course of, and fairly frankly it took loads of assets,” Wolfson stated.

Wolfson and others who championed the plan, together with late Hillsborough County Commissioner Phyllis Busansky, spent years working with companies and elected officers to get assist for this system. It wasn’t simply the Hillsborough fee they needed to persuade. In addition they wanted the state legislature to cross a regulation permitting counties to impose a tax like this.

It was a troublesome promote at occasions, however Wolfson stated he is proud to see the work paid off.

“Getting the local people to purchase into the worth of its personal residents,” Wolfson stated. “A wholesome group is a productive group, it is an economically credible group.”

Wolfson suspects it might be even tougher to start out a program like this in at the moment’s political and financial local weather, however believes it is doable. He hopes different communities use Hillsborough as a mannequin for comparable initiatives.

Some advocates in Florida are persevering with their calls to broaden Medicaid, energized by South Dakotans’ current vote to take action of their state. Hillsborough officers say they do not know what would turn into of the county plan if that occurred, however say they’re dedicated to investing within the well being of their residents.

Why aren’t extra individuals enrolled?

For now, their aim is to get extra individuals enrolled in this system. The county has sufficient cash to serve hundreds extra residents than the 13,000 or so it presently serves. Even after elevating the revenue restrict to qualify for the well being plan this yr, not sufficient persons are taking benefit.

“Nobody on this county ought to go with out well being care,” stated Philip Conti. “In the event that they do want well being care they will come to us and we’ll, you understand, we’ll assist them by it.”

However lots of people do not even know the plan exists. Hillsborough’s inhabitants has grown dramatically for the reason that program launched, with many individuals transferring to the world from out of state. Conti additionally suspects some are cautious of presidency packages.

Ana Yanes admits she was skeptical when she initially heard concerning the county-run program, assuming bureaucratic pink tape would drag out the sign-up course of. Now as a happy member of greater than three years, she says she spreads the phrase every time she will be able to.

Typically she encounters family and friends who’re struggling financially however are overwhelmed by the concept of making use of. Signing up for well being care includes analysis, pulling paperwork collectively, and navigating on-line software portals or cellphone strains. That requires time and vitality that Yanes says some individuals don’t really feel they’ve.

“So I feel they’re simply extra targeted on retaining a roof over their shoulders proper now than worrying about medical insurance coverage. Does that make sense?” she stated.

County health worker stands on one side of a table with a laptop open and pamphlets scattered around. She hands a brochure to a woman wearing a face mask and carrying a bag of materials.

Stephanie Colombini


WUSF Public Media

Cassandra Blaylock (left) incessantly does group outreach to unfold the phrase concerning the well being care plan and assist individuals get signed up. She lately visited the county’s SouthShore Neighborhood Useful resource Heart in Ruskin to share info with residents.

Increasing outreach

County officers say they get that, and say that’s why they’ve shifted their technique within the final couple years.

As a substitute of counting on individuals to search out out concerning the plan by referrals from well being suppliers or on-line searches, employees corresponding to Cassandra Blaylock are additionally going out into the group to recruit members. They usually’re doing extra to assist candidates overcome digital limitations, like needing a pc or tech savvy.

Blaylock, the schooling and outreach supervisor for the county’s well being care providers division, defined she makes use of ZIP code knowledge to establish areas in want and plans her outreach round that. She visits church buildings, neighborhood conferences, job festivals and different occasions, and companions with group teams who have already got relationships with residents.

Since there isn’t a particular enrollment interval, Blaylock and her colleagues will usually carry tablets to get individuals registered on the spot.

“I simply attempt to present them within the discipline that it is easy,” Blaylock stated. “It is easy. It goes step-by-step, and as soon as individuals get the dangle of it, then they’re fairly good.”

She was flying solo on a current Saturday morning at an occasion the county hosted at its group middle in Ruskin. Many attendees got here at no cost meals and leisure, however Blaylock hoped some would depart one step nearer to accessing well being care.

She engaged with of us concerning the well being plan as they handed by her desk, answering questions and handing out pamphlets. Blaylock directed individuals who wanted hands-on help to representatives from the Household Well being Care Basis and Hispanic Companies Council, among the organizations the county works with to help with signups.

One girl she spoke with on the honest, Linda Stuart, already had medical insurance. However she was within the plan for her son, who’s in his 20s and who Stuart says hasn’t felt the urgency to hunt out protection.

“And that is why I am type of, as Mommy, making an attempt to encourage him,” Stuart stated. “Coming right here and getting this info will give me a greater level to leap off to assist him.”

Interactions like which are why county well being staff say the outreach is price it, and so they hope it would translate to larger enrollment numbers. Philip Conti stated he’d wish to see the plan stand up to 18,000 members.

“On the finish of the day, I feel we’ve got to get just a little bit extra focused to the communities,” Conti stated. “We’ve got to get just a little bit deeper into the communities the place we predict individuals would profit from this, and we’ve got to do issues to achieve their belief.”

Learn how to apply

Hillsborough County residents can be taught extra about eligibility necessities and apply for this system on the well being plan webpage.

You may as well name the county’s well being care providers division for help at (813) 272-5040.

This story is a part of “The Holdouts,” a reporting collaborative targeted on the 11 states which have but to broaden Medicaid, which the Inexpensive Care Act approved in 2010. The collaborative is a mission of Public Well being Watch.