Affordable Care Act

Obamacare enrollees become urban legend

 
 
A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC.
A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC.
KAREN BLEIER / AFP/Getty Images

dchang@MiamiHerald.com

Will the Floridians who have enrolled for Obamacare please stand up?

Nearly two weeks after the federal government launched the online Health Insurance Marketplace at HealthCare.gov, individuals who have successfully used the choked-up website to enroll for a subsidized health insurance plan have reached a status akin to urban legend: Everyone has heard of them, but very few people have actually met one.

The Miami Herald searched high and low for individuals who completed enrollment for a subsidized health plan through the marketplace, also called an exchange, launched by the federal government on Oct. 1 in 36 states, including Florida.

The Herald solicited readers for stories of enrollees online and in the newspaper, and received a fair number of responses reflecting various degrees of success with HealthCare.gov, which has been plagued by technical problems that federal officials attribute to an overwhelming number of people trying to access the website at once.

A keystone of the federal healthcare reform law known the Affordable Care Act, the exchange is intended to provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance for the millions of Americans who do not have coverage.

As of Friday, however, only a smattering of success stories had emerged in news reports. Politico.com, an online news outlet, reported that a 21-year-old Georgia resident who enrolled successfully has become a cause célèbre, with national media and even the White House touting his story.

For now, there’s no reason for consumers to panic, federal officials say.

Enrollment in the exchange lasts until March 31, though people must pick a plan by Dec. 15 to have coverage begin on Jan. 1.

On Friday the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the federally-run exchange, reported that HealthCare.gov had received 14.6 million unique visitors in the first 10 days.

Technical experts have added capacity to allow more simultaneous users onto the exchange since the first week of launch, and officials also have ramped up telephone and in-person paper applications. And a new feature added to HealthCare.gov on Friday allows users to see premium estimates by state, health plan and two age categories.

“We have greatly reduced, and even eliminated, wait times at the registration stage, and more people are actively shopping and comparing plans,’’ said Joanne Peters, an HHS spokeswoman.

Roll out of the health insurance exchanges has not been an all-around flop, however.

States such as California, where state legislators chose to create their own exchange ( Covered California) instead of handing off to the federal government, have experience some problems. But they also are reporting the successful enrollment of thousands of eligible individuals into subsidized health plans.

HHS has not said how many people in Florida or elsewhere have enrolled or attempted to enroll. Federal officials said that Americans have enrolled for coverage through the exchange, but they have declined to reveal how many. Obama administration officials said they will release those numbers once a month.

Insurers selling plans on Florida’s exchange, such as Florida Blue, also said a number of consumers have purchased subsidized plans through the exchange. But they, too, have declined to say how many.

Florida media and nonprofit groups have reported at least two successes in detail.

Florida CHAIN, a statewide consumer health advocacy group, has highlighted the story of Vincent Mutia, a 24-year-old political science student at the University of Central Florida.

Mutia said he tried to enroll on the first day but ran into problems that kept him from shopping the available plans, applying for a subsidy and making a purchase.

“In the last few days,’’ Mutia told the Herald on Friday, “the experience became more fluid. I was able to put in all my information. After the security questions, I created an account.”

Last week, the Orlando Sentinel reported the story of one man who succeeded in buying a plan — after starting at 6 a.m. on the day the exchange launched.

Daniel McNaughton, a 22-year-old computer science student at Valencia College in Orlando, told the newspaper he purchased a Florida Blue plan that will cost him $70 a month after the federal subsidy.

What does a computer science major such as McNaughton think of the program design for HealthCare.gov?

“My best estimate is whoever built the site wasn’t prepared for the type of use it was going to get,’’ McNaughton told the Herald on Friday. “I think the interest was higher than they expected it would be.’’

Read more Healthcare Reform stories from the Miami Herald

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