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Displaced Puerto Ricans face obstacles getting health care

Paula Andalo, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Still, Anne Packham, director of the insurance marketplace project at Covering Central Florida, an organization based in Orlando, said the focus should be on encouraging consumers to register before Dec. 15, the last day most people can sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1.

"Everything is already very confusing, and we think that telling consumers that they can register until Dec. 31 during a special period is adding confusion," she said. "These people need insurance right now, on Jan. 1, not February."

Since the storms, more than 140,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived in the central area of ??Florida, according to Gov. Rick Scott's office. They may stay only for a few months or settle to start a new life. Seeking insurance and medical attention has proven arduous.

Marni Stahlman, president and CEO of Shepherd's Hope Inc., an organization based in Orlando that helps people find coverage and services, recalled one Puerto Rican couple that had a tough time.

He had Medicare and she was a retired teacher who had insurance through her union, Stahlman said. "The husband's Medicare policy was not applicable on the mainland and the wife's was not honored either," she said. "Both have had to start over. He with reapplying for Medicare and she had to apply for the very first time in a marketplace. They are at this time still 'uninsured,' something that they have never had to encounter."

Complicating the situations for many families is the lack of records and supplies. The hurricanes not only devastated lives, homes and power, but they also took medicines, prescriptions, insurance cards and copies of tax returns.

 

"Help for everybody, but for Puerto Ricans in particular, it has to be integral because these people only arrive with their passports," said Jean Zambrano, vice president of medical operations at Shepherd's Hope.

Among the newcomers to Florida, there are at least 18,000 children and adolescents who need medical attention quickly because they are required to get vision, hearing and immunization screenings to attend school. Stahlman and Zambrano said there is no coordinated effort at the state level to pave the way for them.

Maneuvering between the territories and the States is not a well-oiled machine, and health care can fall through the cracks -- which means the last resort for many needing medical attention is the emergency room.

Those who arrive with their important papers help ensure success. Maria Gotay, 51, arrived in Orlando from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, with her two boys, Cristian, 17, and Edwin, 22, 10 days after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.

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