U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor praises USF teams for work as ACA marketplace navigators

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor hosted a press conference March 21 at the USF Health Neuroscience Institute’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Center, announcing her creation of a bill that will help continue funding the work of marketplace navigators who enroll individuals in insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Rep Kathy Castor (left) and USF Health’s Jodi Ray address local media at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Center in Tampa.

“Because I believe that the work of our navigators here at the University of South Florida, all across the state, and all across the country is so important, and because our issue with health care costs for families is so difficult, I have filed a bill – the Enroll Act – to ensure our navigators stay on the beat,” Rep. Castor said.

“It’s called the ENROLL Act. That bill will work in tandem with a bill I have filed that will outlaw junk insurance plans, the short-term, limited duration plans that masquerade as real insurance…These initiatives together should help to lower health care costs for everyone.”

Also speaking at the press conference was USF Health’s Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids and Families and faculty in the USF College of Public Health. Ray and her teams of navigators won the largest Navigator grant in the country and in Florida several years in a row after the insurance marketplace opened in 2013 – totaling more than $14.5 million in grant funding. The grants allowed the navigators in all 67 Florida counties to work with consortium partners that deploy in-person assisters known as navigators to explain health insurance options and help people sign up for plans.

U.S. Rep Kathy Castor (left) listens as Jodi Ray explains the important work of navigators in helping citizens enroll in health insurance options.

“Every day navigators have the opportunity to witness the life-altering impact of what attaining coverage means to the lives of Floridians who have been assisted with enrolling in health insurance,” Ray said. “For many consumers, enrollment simply would not be possible without the help of these individuals. They serve as the first point of contact for many of the consumers seeking help.”

Health insurance marketplace navigators are individuals who are trained and able to help consumers, small businesses, and their employees as they look for health coverage options. Navigators play a vital role in helping consumers prepare applications to establish eligibility and enroll in coverage for the marketplace and potentially qualify for insurance for affordability programs. They also provide outreach and education and raise awareness about the marketplace, and refer consumers to health insurance ombudsmen and consumer assistance programs when necessary. These individuals and organizations are required to be unbiased, and their services are free to consumers.

“Without consumer assistance, these models and systems of care we see being proposed can fail to be effective without consumer assistance included,” Ray said. “Leaving this piece out of the equation going forward is shortsighted and fruitless. Navigators are reaching our most vulnerable populations in Florida. We have an extraordinary opportunity before us to expand upon those milestones we have already achieved in this state.”

“The lead navigator in the country has been right here at the University of South Florida, led by Jodi Ray,” Castor said.

“Jodi, I’m going to say to you today that I’m grateful everything you have done. You’ve been the inspiration in my bill, the ENROLL Act, which is the Expand Navigators, Resources for Outreach Learning and Longevity Act. We’re going to make sure our navigators stay on the beat and provide that independent, free advice to families all across the country.”