Can't afford health insurance? Qualifying may get easier for County program
Low-income working people in Alachua County who are without health insurance may be eligible for a county program that provides healthcare and health education.
In August 2004, voters in Alachua County approved the implementation of the CHOICES program, which provides healthcare for working people who do not have access to health insurance (CHOICES stands for Community Health Offering Innovative Care and Educational Services). Those enrolled in the program pay a $10 co-pay for each visit for primary care and dental care. Health care services are available throughout the county in existing clinics, medical and dental offices. Funds for the program come from a quarter-cent county sales tax.
The CHOICES program is not an insurance plan. Rather, it provides only for services that are obtained from local healthcare providers who have agreed to work with the CHOICES program. Additionally, job-related injuries are covered under Workman's Compensation, not CHOICES. Medical care required as a result of an auto accident is covered under the auto insurance policy, not CHOICES. But CHOICES can provide for comprehensive examinations, immunizations, certain lab tests and screenings, certain prescription drugs, and basic dental care. CHOICES also includes a disease management and education program that provides information and resources to help manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and asthma.
To qualify for the program, applicants must be Alachua County residents between the ages of 18 – 64, working at least 32 hours a week, with limited income. Also, low-income seniors age 65 and older who cannot afford prescriptions and dental care may be eligible for some services under the CHOICES program. To address participation, in a recent board meeting the CHOICES Board proposed some changes to the eligibility requirements in order to serve more of those in need. The changes will be presented to the Alachua County Commission at its February 28 meeting.
For many uninsured, health care has meant seeking medical attention only in emergencies or when very ill. The CHOICES program offers an alternative to that crisis-only approach: preventative care. Once enrolled in the program, individuals can get regular medical check-ups and screenings, both of which can decrease the chances of contracting serious illness and disease. The stress on the emergency care system as well as the costs will then be reduced as more people are enrolled and begin to use preventative care.
Since its inception, the program has collected more than $9 million, well above the original projections. The CHOICES program was authorized for a 7-year period, and the funds generated may be used only for healthcare services for the medically needy. Candace King, CHOICES Program Director, said that there are benchmarks in place to help determine how well the medically needy are being served. Every 2 years an outside observer will evaluate the program and report on progress. "It's important that we demonstrate to the citizens that the program is making a difference," King said.
Since the beginning of enrollment in October 2005, 52 people have enrolled in the program. To find out whether you are eligible for CHOICES, you can visit the CHOICES website at:
where you can find downloadable forms and brochures. You can also call the CHOICES office at 352-264-6772 and ask that the forms be mailed to you. The CHOICES staff will schedule you for an interview to review the forms and determine your eligibility. Also, CHOICES staff can come to your community organization or neighborhood group meeting to assist in getting eligible people enrolled. Just call the CHOICES office for more information.
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