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Pinellas ‘navigators’ to assist residents during healthcare open enrollment period

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Pinellas County will be offering some extra guidance to its residents during the 2016 healthcare open enrollment period.

“Navigators” — think healthcare guidance counselors — will be stationed across the county, on a day-to-day basis, for the duration of the open enrollment period, which begins on Nov. 1, and runs through Jan. 31, 2016.

During this period, navigators can answer residents’ health insurance questions and provide information about enrolling in a plan through the online healthcare marketplace.

There will be opportunities to meet with navigators during multiple countywide events scheduled for each month of the enrollment period. Partners for these events include libraries, neighborhood family centers, Pinellas County Schools, Pinellas Technical College and local churches.

According to a county press release, residents can also make a private appointment with a navigator. At the appointment, residents can expect to:

• explore options, plan prices and benefits available through the Affordable Care Act

• obtain assistance in determining eligibility and information on sliding-scale subsidies and tax credits

• review any free or low-cost programs for which they may qualify

• receive referrals to alternative medical care

• and obtain enrollment assistance to find a healthcare package best suited to their needs.

Funding for Pinellas’ navigator program is provided by the county, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

According to federal law, a citizen’s health insurance must be renewed or made new each year. The only exception is if an individual has a “qualifying life event” — such as a marriage or divorce, the birth or adoption of a new child, a job status change, or certain other major life changes — which allows them an extended grace period to enroll.

Should someone miss the open enrollment period without having experienced a qualifying life event, they can enroll in a nongovernment-plan.

Non-government plans — sometimes known as “private plans” or “short-term plans” — are meant to be temporary. They only provide coverage until an individual becomes eligible for a government plan. Often times, they’re purchased for a predefined term, which can be for anywhere from 30 days to 12 months, and every option in between.

Additionally, America’s healthcare law requires that all citizens have health insurance, or face a fine in the form of a tax penalty. It also requires that no insurance company deny an individual coverage for pre-existing conditions, nor does it allow an individual to be dropped from coverage if they get sick and become too costly to insure.

For a full schedule of Pinellas’ healthcare-related special events, or to make a personal appointment with a navigator, call (727) 464-8411 or visit pinellascounty.org.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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