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With repeal looming, Tampa again opens recreation centers for Obamacare sign-ups

TAMPA — For the fourth straight year, City Hall is opening city recreation centers so health insurance navigators can meet with people interested in signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act before the Jan. 31 deadline.

This time, however, it's happening as President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans make plans to repeal the law.

No matter. Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, says he will help President Barack Obama's administration any way he can to promote a program he supports.

"Now it's even more important with the threat of a repeal," Buckhorn says. "There's 20 million folks in America who now have health care who didn't have it before, and I want to make it as difficult as possible for this new administration to repeal or roll back components of the Affordable Health Care Act that would cause dislocation for people who now have health care."

Buckhorn said adding to the 20 million enrollees makes it more difficult for Congress to make major changes in the affordable health care plan.

"Does it need some tinkering? Sure, it does," he says. "But the basic tenets of it are still valid, and I think it's important for a significant segment of our population."

Whether or not they live in the city of Tampa, people can speak with navigators from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Tuesdays and Thursdays in January starting Jan. 3. Here are the locations.

• Loretta Ingraham Center, 1615 N Hubert Ave.

• Hunt Center at Al Lopez Park, 4810 N Himes Ave.

• Cyrus Greene Center, 2101 E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

• Forest Hills Center, 724 W 109th Ave.

Under the law, individuals who can afford health insurance but choose not to buy it will face stiff penalties. Currently, the fine starts at $695 for an adult and goes up for people who earn more.

Going into the three-month open enrollment period that began on Nov. 1, premiums for mid-level Obamacare plans were expected to rise by an average of 25 percent nationwide and 19 percent in Florida.

But information from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation suggested that Hillsborough might buck the trend.

The plans fall into four categories. At the bottom, bronze plans charge the lowest monthly premiums but the most for health care. At the top, platinum plans have higher premiums but also cover more of the cost of care.

In Hillsborough, premiums for an average silver plan, which is in the middle, cost $203 a month for an individual who earns $27,000 a year. That's $6 a month less than this year.

For a family of four with $53,000 a year in income, the silver plan premiums cost $447 a month — or $15 less than this year.

Since the three-month open enrollment period began on Nov. 1, navigators have been "at least as busy" this year as in previous years, said Melanie Hall, executive director of the Family Healthcare Foundation.

Through the first six weeks of this year's 13-week enrollment period, people had signed up for 140,008 plans in the Tampa Bay area, including Sarasota, according to a report this month from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. That's a pace that could exceed last year's total of 284,753 bay area plan selections.

Hall said it's likely that local sign-ups would top last year's enrollment numbers.

"The law is the law, and nothing about open enrollment has changed," she said. "We're continuing our efforts in the community, and there is a great response. Clearly it is a needed program."

Contact Richard Danielson at (813) 226-3403 or Follow @Danielson_Times.

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