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HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell comes to Tampa to sell the ACA

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The deadline to sign up to get on the Affordable Care Act in 2016 ends in three weeks, which is why Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell was in Tampa on Sunday.

Burrell addressed the congregation at New Mt. Zion Baptist Church in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood of Tampa, where she was joined by Congresswoman Kathy Castor and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The three public officials then attended an enrollment event following the church service.

This is the third year that members of the public can sign up for Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Although the deadline to sign up for 2014 and 2015 was at the end of January, the White House has allowed for more than 30 “special enrollment” periods, offering eligibility to people after the so-called hard deadlines. A report in Sunday’s New York Times said that insurance companies are unhappy about those “special enrollments,” claiming that some people are only enrolling after they get sick or need services, making the annual open enrollment period meaningless.

“For those people involved in a job switch, or have certain types of job changes, in terms of marriage or other types of things, we need those special enrollment periods,” Burwell said on Sunday. She noted, however, that the administration announced last month that unlike 2014 and 2015,  there will be no special enrollment period at tax time this year.

The law of the land now is for everyone to have health insurance. If you don’t, you are now subject to a $695 fine, or 2.5 percent of all taxable income. “We want to make sure that everyone who is eligible right now to get in and meet that deadline, or otherwise, they will be eligible for that fee,” said Burwell.

She also said that the administration’s goal is for 10 million to be signed up for Obamacare by the end of this year.

That’s a far cry from the original projections from a few years ago.

A year ago, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 21 million Americans would be covered through Obamacare plans in 2016. Burrell said there are factors – many actually positive for the economy- to explain the vast discrepancy.

“Many people frequently get jobs or other things, so fortunately those numbers sometimes come down throughout the year, ” she stated. “Our goal that we set out is 10 million. Some of those early numbers were actually based on some of the predictions that have not been true.”

Among those incorrect predictions she said was that there would be more people unemployed and needing health care. “We’ve seen the lowest unemployment rate since that 2009 period, so millions of jobs have been created since the ACA,” she boasted. Another bogus CBO claim she said was that there would be a major shift from employer-based care to the marketplace.

“Those numbers haven’t changed,” she said.

Nearly half of the 10.5 million uninsured people eligible for exchange coverage are between the ages of 18 and 34, Politico reported last year. Burwell said that it’s crucial to get more young folks into the risk pool, since obviously younger people are generally healthier. She says HHS is using digital marketing as a way to try to reach out to millennials.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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