USF health insurance navigators address COVID-19 enrollment surge

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While the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the nation resulting in loss of employment for many, USF College of Public Health’s Jodi Ray wants the public to know that doesn’t mean they have to lose health care coverage too.

Ray, program director of the COPH’s Florida Covering Kids & Families, says she and her team of health insurance navigators experienced a jump in calls over the past few months from individuals who have been furloughed, laid off, or are self-employed.  

Jodi Ray

“From the day the person experiences the reason to lose coverage, they have 60 days to apply for a special enrollment period,” Ray said.

A Special Enrollment Period (SEP) is a time outside the yearly open enrollment period where you can sign up for health insurance if you’ve had certain life events, including loss of health coverage, moving, marriage, new baby, or adopting a child. Additionally, a person who was unable to apply during that period due to COVID-19 may be eligible for another SEP.

Enrollment in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) may be done any time of the year, whether you qualify for a SEP or not, according to Ray.

Ray said has also outlined more detailed COVID-19 SEP information, which includes guidance on what options are available for those who lost a job, are experiencing reduced working hours or are now unable to afford their premiums.

“To qualify in terms of insurance being unaffordable, they would look at the cost of the insurance based on household income,” Ray said. “We can also potentially get an SEP if something changed to make them eligible for tax credits, such as a change in household income.”

Ray stressed individuals should be cautious of groups selling short-term plans, which may not cover all COVID-19 services.

“Keep in mind that people are out there selling these short-term plans,” she said. “They are not under the same requirements to cover COVID testing and treatment. People think they are going to get a deal out of some junk plan. They are going to find they aren’t going to have the coverage they expect to have. People have to be careful about that and which is why it’s important to talk to a navigator.”

Ray said there are even Marketplace plans that offer telehealth for little to no co-payments.

“Some people don’t even realize this is an option; they can continue health care without putting their health at risk,” she said.

Despite a drastic decrease in program funding over the last few years, Ray and her team are currently conducting appointments virtually to help those in need across the state.

To speak with a navigator for assistance, visit or call toll free 877-813-9115.

“Our team will also help with Florida KidCare, which has open-enrollment year-round, and covers children until they turn 19,” she said. “It’s important to get the word out, I think some people they just don’t know where to go for help. We can also help with any other complicated situations with their Marketplace or KidCare coverage. We can also address application issues. We don’t want people out there struggling.”

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health