There's less than a month left to enroll for health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace and so far this year fewer people have been signing up.
Over the first 10 days of open enrollment, about 1.18 million people have signed up, which is down about 20 percent compared to the first 11 days of 2017.
Experts say there are several factors that could be contributing to the decline.
First, there's no longer a penalty for people who don't purchase health insurance. Also, insurers are now allowed to sell cheaper short-term health plans that don't have the same protections as those sold under the Affordable Care Act. Finally, the government slashed the budgets for advertising and for navigators who help people sign up for Affordable Care Act plans
In Florida, the funding for navigators dropped by 75 percent from $4.9 million in 2017 to $1.25 million this year.
“I would expect that we will see some drop in enrollments due to the fact that there just aren't as many people available -- boots on the ground -- to provide that one-on-one assistance,” said Melanie Hall, director of the Family Healthcare Foundation, which is in charge of navigators throughout the Tampa Bay Area.
This year, private and non-profit companies in the Tampa Bay area partnered with the Family Healthcare Foundation to provide funding for navigators when the federal funding was cut.
BayCare, United Way Suncoast and Healthy Start Hillsborough have picked up the costs for navigators that were once fully funded by Hall’s foundation.
“Really these entities have stepped up so they can continue to keep the very experienced navigators we have on the ground in place,” Hall said.
The family Healthcare Foundation also gets private funding from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and Allegany Franciscan Ministries.
“We’ve maintained almost exactly the same staffing levels as we’ve had last year,” Hall said. “We understand that we are fortunate in this because that is not what my colleagues are experiencing around the state and around the country.”
Before consumers sign up for short-term health insurance plans, they should realize what they are getting into, Hall said.
Consumers who received financial help through the Affordable Care Act will not receive similar assistance in a short-term plan. The plans also do not cover pre-existing conditions or many of the essential benefits covered under Obamacare. And they will have to be renewed every six months.
“We just want to make sure that as people consider short-term plans, they really do so with eyes wide open,” Hall said.
Those who need help from a navigator to sign up for an Affordable Care Act plan can call (877) 813-9115 or visit FamilyHealthCareFDN.org.