University of South Florida

USF open enrollment event draws Tampa Mayor and White House

As the third-year of open enrollment kicked off  nationwide Nov. 1 for the federal Health Insurance Marketplace, attention was once again on USF, which for the second consecutive year attracted the largest Navigator grant in the country.  This time Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and White House Special Assistant to the President Michael Smith toured the community outreach event hosted by USF Health navigators, observing firsthand students and families signing up for health care insurance.

Navigator Philip Conti explains today's enrollment with Jodi Ray, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and Michael Smith, special assistant to President Obama.

Navigator Philip Conti of the Hillsborough County Division of Health Care Services speaks with Jodi Ray, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and Michael Smith, special assistant to the President.

The “Nav-Lab” was set up in the USF Marshall Student Center and both Buckhorn and Smith were introduced to navigators and consumers by Jodi Ray, project director for the Florida Covering Kids & Families (FL-CKF) program at the Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies, USF College of Public Health.

The added attention stems from the fact that USF received a $5.9M 2016 Navigator grant, once again the country’s largest award, to help educate uninsured Floridians about the insurance plans that can best meet their health care and financial needs and assist those eligible with enrollment.  This year, the focus will be to help consumers understand how to get the most out of their coverage as well continue new enrollments and renewals, officials said.

After visiting the consumer Nav-Lab, Buckhorn and Smith joined other representatives from USF, Enroll America and a USF Health Morsani College of Medicine student, who is a local Marketplace consumer, for a press conference to talk about this year’s enrollment.

Michael Smith address local media at the USF Marshall Center.

Michael Smith addresses local media at the USF Marshall Center.

Open Enrollment gives millions of uninsured Floridians the opportunity to enroll in health coverage for the calendar year of 2016. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), almost half of the remaining Marketplaces-eligible uninsured are between the ages of 18 and 34. Also, despite historic gains in coverage, Latinos and African Americans are still more likely to be uninsured than their white counterparts.

Because of these facts, this year’s push is keenly focused on that younger group and on minorities, Smith said.

“You could not talk about health care in this country without talking about serving what are some of our most vulnerable youth and communities,” Smith said.

“And we know that many uninsured and younger folks come from underserved communities. It’s going to be more challenging this year than it’s been in past years, with historic gains in coverage and an improving economy, there are just fewer uninsured to enroll. Ultimately, though, having fewer uninsured is a good problem to have, but means we’re going to have to work smarter and harder.”

In introductory remarks, Edmund Funai, MD, vice president and chief operating officer for USF Health, noted the parallels that today’s USF community event has with USF’s overall mission.

USF Health Chief Operating Officer Dr. Ed Funai.

USF Health Chief Operating Officer Dr. Ed Funai.

“Our mission, as a large, public research institution serving one of America’s largest metropolitan areas, requires us to be an economic engine and a trusted resource for our region, our state, the nation, and the world,” Dr. Funai said. “The program we are here to highlight today is a perfect example of the way in which we carry out that mission at USF each day. We could not be prouder of the tremendous talent and dedication of the (USF Navigator) grant’s lead investigator Jodi Ray and her team at the USF Florida Covering Kids & Families program. They work with partners across the state to assist Floridians in making informed choices about the health care insurance coverage that best meets the needs of themselves and their families.”

Tampa Mayor Buckhorn congratulated USF on receiving the country’s largest Navigator grant and emphasized how well the Marketplace is working to reduce the number of uninsured citizens in Tampa and across Florida.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

“You have seen the amazing results from the last two enrollments,” Buckhorn said. “Over a 1.7 million Floridians have signed up to get access to health care. I can tell you as a mayor that there’s probably not anything more important than the citizens I represent having affordable access to health care. It makes such an amazing difference in the quality of their lives. In Hillsborough County, over 77,000 citizens – our friends, our neighbors – were able to acquire access to health care because of the Affordable Care Act.”

To help convey the real impact navigators have on helping Floridians find coverage, Jodi Ray put forth hard numbers.

USF Navigator Grant PI Jodi Ray.

USF Navigator Grant Principal Investigator Jodi Ray.

“More than 9.9 million consumers were enrolled nationwide during the second enrollment period and almost 1.6 million of those were Floridians – far surpassing projection numbers,” Ray said. “Nearly 200,000 individuals received one-on-one education and application assistance from USF Project Navigators and almost 700,000 consumers were reached through more than 3,600 community outreach activities across the state. Additionally, our combined marketing and communications effort throughout the year had a reach of nearly 58 million.”

Despite those numbers, there are still many who remain uninsured, said Raymond Paultre, executive director of Florida Enroll America.

ACA Open Enrollment Kickoff in the USF Marshall Ctr.

Raymond Paultre, Florida State executive director of Enroll America.

“The good news is that the remaining uninsured still want insurance,” Paultre said. “According to recent polls, 7 out of 10 of remaining uninsured said it was important to them, but half of the remaining the uninsured still haven’t visited Get Covered America or . In addition to reaching out to the uninsured, we also be reaching out to the newly insured to check out the new options and to actively shop on the marketplace before they renew to make sure they’re getting the plan that best suits their financial needs and their family’s needs. HHS has recently reviewed some data showing that Floridians who changed plans when re-enrolling their coverage were saving close to $500 a year.”

Open Enrollment for health coverage began Nov. 1, 2015, and ends Jan. 31, 2016. This third enrollment period is also a chance for people to avoid paying a fine when they file their taxes. Those who do not enroll in a plan by the deadline of Jan. 31, 2016, could face a fine of $695 or 2.5 percent of yearly income, whichever is greater.

For more information, visit or call (813) 803-0628 to speak with a USF navigator.


From left, Michael Smith, Jodi Ray and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

ACA Open Enrollment Kickoff in the USF Marshall Ctr.

From left, Dr. Ed Funai, Michael Smith, and Mayor Bob Buckhorn.


Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications.


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