Health care enrollment starting to grow in Florida

7:40 PM, Dec 11, 2013   |    comments
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Screenshot of HealthCare.gov on October 30, 2013

 

WASHINGTON (Florida Today) -- More than 281,000 Floridians have applied for health coverage on the HealthCare.gov federal website and about 17,000 have selected a plan on the site, figures released Wednesday by the Obama administration show.

The figures cover the two months between Oct. 1, when the site began operating, through the end of November.

Nationally, nearly 3.7 million people applied for insurance on either the federal online exchange or a state-based exchange, and about 365,000 signed up for coverage, the figures show.

Florida's enrollment figures represent a small percentage of the roughly two million state residents believed to be eligible to get coverage through HealthCare.gov, created under the Affordable Care Act.

The federal exchange and the state-based exchanges operating elsewhere allow consumers to shop for health care coverage and find out if they qualify for federal subsidies.

Still, the Florida numbers mark a significant improvement from October, when about 124,000 Floridians applied for health coverage on the federal exchange and about 3,500 selected a plan.

The slow start was largely blamed on the serious technical glitches that affected the federal site, which serves 36 states, starting with its launch. Obama administration officials said most of those problems have been fixed.

"We invite those Americans whose experiences with HealthCare.gov that have been frustrating to them so far to come back and try again," said Michael Hash, director of health reform at the Health and Human Services Department, told reporters in a conference call. "The HealthCare.gov web site is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1."

Families and individuals have until March 31 to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act or face a fine. But if they want coverage beginning Jan. 1, they must choose a plan by Dec. 23.

Officials have said they always expected people would wait until closer to the March 31 deadline before purchasing a plan. That's been the case with past government programs, such as Medicare Part D.

Health insurance is a particularly important issue in Florida, where nearly one quarter of residents under 65 -- almost 4 million people -- lack coverage. Only Nevada and Texas have higher proportions of uninsured residents.

So far, 209,540 Floridians have been determined eligible to purchase insurance on HealthCare.gov. Of those, 75,480 -- 36 percent -- qualify for a subsidy based on their income, the figures indicate.

Another 18,822 who applied learned they are eligible for coverage through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Florida, which has generally been hostile to the Affordable Care Act, decided it did not want to run its own exchange. That means independent groups, known as "navigators," handle much of the work of informing Floridians about their options on HealthCare.gov. They have concentrated efforts in the state's larger urban areas.
The administration is running ads in the state and helping the navigators promote HealthCare.gov, said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Organizations such as Enroll America also have been setting up shop in places -- pharmacies, clinics and houses of worship -- where they believe uninsured Floridians will be found.

"We certainly have an active outreach network there in terms of on-the-ground organizations, personnel and active community partners who are very engaged to make sure individuals have information about the marketplace and are able to seek enrollment assistance," Bataille told reporters.

Ledyard King, FLORIDA TODAY

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