CHOICES health care program faces low enrollment


Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 9:16 p.m.

Facts

Are you eligible for CHOICES?

Eligibility requirements:

  • Age 18 to 64
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Alachua County resident
  • Employed 32 hours a week or more
  • Meets household income guidelines
  • Not eligible for health insurance such as private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare or VA benefits.
  • Low-income seniors age 65 and older who cannot afford prescriptions and dental care may receive some program services.
  • For more information call 352-264-6772

  • Only 40 people have enrolled in the taxpayer-funded health care program run by Alachua County for the working poor, yet more money than anticipated has been generated for it.
    A new action plan for CHOICES that will aims to increase participation will be developed for presentation to the County Commission on Feb. 28.
    "We are woefully low" in enrollment, said Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, the board's primary CHOICES advocate. "We have a golden opportunity with the public to do some good. I'm disappointed that with almost $9 million, have have only (40) participants."
    CHOICES - short for Community Health Offering Innovative Care and Education Services - is the referendum voters approved in 2004 creating a quarter-cent sales tax.
    The tax went into effect last year and the money goes toward medical care for the working poor whose employers do not offer insurance. Enrollment started in the fall.
    It was anticipated about 14,000 county residents would be eligible, though program director Candice King said that number may be lower.
    The tax was expected to raise about $7 million the first year, but it is now expected to top $9.5 million.
    But few people are taking advantage of the program. King said word of CHOICES is being spread though a variety of means - advertising, information booths at community events and pamphlets at medical offices are a few - but participation has lagged.
    "Enrollment has been disappointingly slow. We are gathering direct data on what has been the fit with the program to our community," King said. "The bottom line is, the way to make it successful is to get the word out and get people enrolled."
    King, based on recommendations from the CHOICES advisory board, has proposed spending an added $100,000 in marketing on television, radio and print.
    The money is within the 15 percent of the CHOICES revenue set aside for administration. However, King said she wanted commission approval because $100,000 is a big amount of money.
    Commissioners want an action plan before approving media marketing. Several commissioners said a better way to reach people may be through direct contact at workplaces or through means such as sending fliers home with school children on free or reduced lunch.
    "You know where they are. I'm just trying to find out why you are having a problem," Commissioner Rodney Long said. "They live in housing areas, they work at labor finders or they do hair or they work at the cleaners."
    King was directed to develop a comprehensive action plan that will include a marketing scheme.
    The marketing component will detail the amount of money to be spent and how it will be spent - including the specific radio, television and print outlets that will be used as well as other direct marketing.
    Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or at swirkoc@ gvillesun.com

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