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School and Program Updates

School and Program Updates

South Florida: Students Help Expand “Health” Options Through the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan

Imagine you’re living paycheck to paycheck and you suddenly lose your job — and your health insurance.

What then?

The University of South Florida College of Public Health (COPH) and its students have long played a vital role in helping to provide health care to those in the community who need it most.

College faculty, community leaders and advocates worked together over 25 years ago to create the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan. Dr. Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health and medicine, was one of the original creators of the plan, and Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the COPH, has served on the plan’s advisory board for 15 years.

The plan offers health care coverage to low-income county residents between the ages of 18 and 65 who do not quality for other health insurance programs. It is funded through a half-cent raise in the sales tax.

“Overall, the plan benefits individuals by providing them with health care access they wouldn’t otherwise have. It also helps providers by giving them a source of payment for services [for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it],” said Dr. Donna Petersen. “And it benefits the community at large by providing a forum for discussing issues that affect the health of everyone.”

The COPH’s involvement in the plan was expanded several years ago when Mr. Gene Earley, deputy director of Hillsborough County Health Care Services, approached Dr. Petersen about getting students from the college involved in developing a broader vision for the health plan.

An initial group of students worked with the county over a semester to assess health needs in several neighborhoods. These data suggested there was an opportunity to offer the community services related to preventing disease and promoting wellness.

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