By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE – Christmas came early for 48 Florida health centers.
Playing the role of Santa, the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services is doling out $4.4 million to Sunshine State community health groups tasked with Affordable Care Act “outreach and enrollment.”
The funding is part of a $58 million national push that extends into territories and commonwealths such as Puerto Rico and Guam.
Since July, HHS has awarded $150 million in health center grants.
Florida groups have already received more than $8 million to hire 163 health center workers, or navigators, and to meet the grant program’s stated goal of 158,000 Sunshine State insurance enrollments. The new funding is aimed at expanding navigators’ hours and hiring even more Obamacare workers.
“This investment means that health centers can provide expanded assistance for people in communities nationwide looking for resources to help them understand their insurance options and enroll in affordable coverage,” HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.
The timing of the announcement coincides with the Obama administration’s frantic efforts to provide consumers with continuous insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1.
The lowly performance of healthcare.gov on top of millions of forced insurance policy cancellations nationwide is prompting the administration to throw more money at the problem and further extend enrollment deadlines.
A December enrollment report, issued by HHS the same day as the new funding announcement, shows only 17,908 Floridians selected an Obamacare exchange plan in the first two months the so-called insurance marketplace went online. Still, that’s tops among the 36 states with federally-run exchanges.
There’s no indication however as to how many of those consumers have actually paid an insurance premium to secure coverage.
Nearly 19,000 Floridians have signed up for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Coverage Program, CHIP, which comes at little or no cost to recipients.
Last week, HHS moved the payment deadline for coverage beginning Jan.1 from Dec. 15, to Dec. 31.
The administration is also flexing its muscles and “urging” insurance companies to accept payment after the year-end deadline and issue retroactive coverage in 2014.
“We are providing additional flexibility to consumers across the country to ensure they have access to coverage options that begin on Jan. 1, 2014,” said Sebelius.
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