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Thousands of Duval residents sign up for health insurance

Published on December 8, 2023 at 3:09 pm

The number of people without health insurance has plummeted nearly 22% in Duval County in a month, the result of Jacksonville’s new “Get Covered Jax” intiative.

Get Covered Jax was designed to help residents navigate the Florida health insurance marketplace at to find affordable or no-cost health care options. At the time of the announcement Nov. 2, city officials said about 120,000 residents under age 65 were uninsured.

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As of Nov. 30, more than 26,000 of those people have enrolled for health insurance, said Sunil Joshi, the city’s chief health officer.

The key factor driving the change has been educating the public, Joshi said.

“Since this is the first time that we had done anything like this, just simply promoting and educating folks and making it easier for them to navigate the system, we really didn’t have a clear idea as to how well we would do in terms of reaching the population and having people actually sign up, so if anything this has actually exceeded our expectations,” Joshi said.

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Michelle Sports is a Duval County resident who recently signed up for health insurance. She said she was unaware of her options before getting insurance.

“It is a huge relief and a blessing and prayers answered that I can manage my health and my health issues without breaking the bank,” Sports said.

Sports works as a hairstylist. Typically, unless someone works for one of the major hair-cutting companies, they are considered independent contractors and must find their own health insurance.

Sports was in the hospital recently and needed coverage for the aftercare she was going to need. She was put in contact with Jax Care Connect, one of the resources available for people when they go to the Get Covered Jax website.

Sports said she has two debilitating injuries and over the last two years has been focused on getting back on her feet after a divorce. Not having continuous access to health care and paying out of pocket has been stressful for her.

She said the process to sign up for a health care plan was easy and took only about an hour.

“I now can make my doctor’s appointments, be able to get in with my specialist. My medicine isn’t going to cost me two weeks worth of work,” Sports said.    

In the past, Sports was embarrassed about not having health insurance and thought that only rich people could afford it, but that’s not the case anymore.

When the Get Covered Jax initiative was rolled out, the city said it was designed to help educate uninsured people about the benefits of having health insurance, eligibility, coverage options, best practices for navigating the health care marketplace and resources to help people through the process of signing up.

The city said it was working with several faith-based organizations, community health care providers and media outlets to reach as many people as possible.

The entire community benefits when more people are enrolled in health insurance, Joshi said. He’s seen data showing that 76% of uninsured individuals used emergency rooms in the county between one and three times last year. Forty-six percent of those people said they use the emergency room for minor illnesses.

“That ends up being uncompensated care at the emergency room, which of course the city pays for as well, and so by keeping these folks out of the emergency room into a primary care system you also do save the community millions of dollars,” Joshi said.

Last year alone, the city paid UF Health Jacksonville a total of $40 million for uncompensated care, which is when uninsured people go to the emergency room, hospitals or intensive care units, Joshi said.

Deadline for signup nears

Deadlines for signing up for health care options are approaching. Dec. 15 is the last day to enroll in or change your health care plan for coverage that begins Jan. 1. Open Enrollment ends Jan. 15. After that date, you won’t be able to sign up for health insurance unless you have a qualifying life event like a divorce or you lose your job.

If you are on the fence about getting health insurance or have any fears, Michelle Sports said she was in that position before. Getting coverage can ease your mind, she said. 

“If I can do it, I promise you, you can do it. There are people out there that their sole job, they don’t make money from insurance companies, they are solely there to walk you through the process, hold your hand and guide you through it and make it as painless as possible,” Sports said.

If you need health insurance, you can go to or contact Jax Care Connect at

If you don’t have reliable access to a computer, you can call the marketplace call center at 1-800-318-2596. For individuals needing to use TTY, the number is 1-855-889-4325.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.

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