FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In just a matter of hours, enrollment begins for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The issue, at the center of fierce political debates, has garnished strong support by Jim Nathan, CEO of Lee Memorial Health System.
"Anything we can do to get more people covered by insurance is a good thing," Nathan said. "We are the second highest uninsured area in the state of Florida and the state is the second highest uninsured state in the country so there's nothing to be proud of there."
Nathan's said as healthcare stands now, those who are insured are paying a "hidden tax" to pay for uninsured patients in the form of higher health care costs. Nathan pointed to a growing number of patients using the emergency room for primary care-- costs which ultimately get placed on insured patients paying more in premiums and deductibles.
"The 20 percent of commercially insured are paying 100 percent for the deficit of caring for those individuals," he said. "It's not the right way to fund for it and i think this is a way to fix it."
With fewer emergency room visits and more visits to primary care physicians, Nathan said Lee Memorial is re-structuring how primary care physicians deliver care to allow them to focus more on patients.
"There's a lot of misinformation, a lot of fears out there, but we will understand over time and what our goal ought to be is what things work, what things don't work, how do we make the things that aren't working, work better?" Nathan said.
Nathan also supports Medicaid expansion, which Florida lawmakers previously rejected. If Medicaid isn't expanded, Nathan fears what's to come for the people who won't qualify for exchanges.
"I think Florida's opportunity to negotiate with the feds is stronger now than it may be in a year or two from now if we choose not to expand, and I think this is where we ought to be at the table with the feds who really want Florida to be a part of the expansion," he said.
As the start of enrollment approaches, Nathan encourages patients to talk to experts such as an insurance professional or benefits counselor to see how the Affordable Care Act will impact them individually.
The following locations in Lee County will have an Obamacare navigator:
- McGregor Clinic
- Lee County Human Services
- United Way
The following locations in Collier County will have an Obamacare navigator:
- Catholic Charities
- Redlands Christian Migrant Association