Obamacare enrollment in Florida: 17,908 and counting

 

dchang@MiamiHerald.com

About 110,000 eligible Americans selected a health plan in November using the federal online insurance exchange at healthcare.gov — more than four times the rate for October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported on Tuesday.

Florida led the way, with 17,908 people signing up since Oct. 1. Nationally, a total of more than 364,000 eligible Americans have selected a health plan using the federal- and state-based online insurance exchanges that are central to the Affordable Care Act, according to government estimates that were embargoed until 9 a.m. Wednesday.

More than one in three individuals who selected a health plan, or 137,204 people, did so using healthcare.gov, which serves 36 states, including Florida. The majority of people who signed up, or 227,478, used state-based websites that serve 14 states and the District of Columbia.

The improved numbers for the federal exchange reflect extensive technical upgrades to healthcare.gov and a “tremendous demand” among consumers for affordable health insurance, Michael Hash, director of HHS’s office of health reform, told reporters during a conference call Tuesday night.

“Through end of November,’’ Hash said, “the federal and state sites have received more than 39 million visitors.’’

Hash noted more than 800,000 Americans have been found eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which are state-federal healthcare programs for the poor and disabled.

Another 1.9 million people have applied for and have been determined eligible for a health plan sold through the exchange but have not yet selected a plan, Hash said.

Included in the number of people who selected a plan are those who have paid the first month's premium to activate their plan, and those who have not.

The enrollment data did not include demographic details about applicants, such as age and ethnicity, information that Hash said may be more important in determining the success of the health law than the number of individuals who enroll.

“It’s really about who signs up and where,’’ he said.

The White House has set a 2014 enrollment goal of 7 million Americans, a figure first projected by the Congressional Budget Office.

Tuesday’s enrollment report is well below the pace needed to reach that goal by March 31, the close of open enrollment. Dec. 23 is the deadline for individuals to buy health insurance that will take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Obama administration officials have repeatedly said that they expect enrollments to rise as the March 31 deadline nears, and as their aggressive outreach and education efforts begin to produce results.

“We fully expect these numbers to grow over time,’’ said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees healthcare.gov.

The federal online exchange is designed to handle as many as 800,000 consumers a day.

Despite the improved functionality of healthcare.gov, a team of technicians continues to work on significant “back-end” issues with the complex system, such as the transmission of direct payments, and so-called 834 forms containing consumer data, from healthcare.gov to insurers.

Bataille said CMS officials, insurers and technical experts are meeting daily to fix the 834-form problems.

“Our top priority,’’ she said, “is making sure that every 834 form both past and present is accurate.’’

Problems include the system’s failure to generate 834 forms for consumers who enroll in a plan, the generation of duplicate forms and data errors, such as incorrect spousal or parent-child relationships and misspelled names.

As many as one in four of all 834 forms generated through the federal online exchange from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30 may contain errors, Bataille said last week.

Since the site’s relaunch on Dec. 1, however, that error rate dropped to one in ten of 834-form transactions, Bataille said, largely due to a repaired “bug” in healthcare.gov that was causing 80 percent of the form errors by failing to transmit Social Security numbers for consumers.

Tempering Tuesday’s improved numbers is the fact that only about 41 percent of Americans determined eligible to enroll in an exchange plan also qualified for financial aide to help pay their montly premiums.

The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that about 90 percent of Americans who enroll in an exchange plan would be eligible for financial assistance, which is available only to those earning up to four times the federal poverty level, which was about $46,000 a year for an individual and $94,000 for a family of four in 2013.

Nancy DeLew, a CMS administrator speaking on Tuesday’s conference call, acknowledged that fewer people were eligible for subsidies than expected, but that it was still early in the enrollment period.

“We don’t know if that will change by the time we get to the end of the six-month period,’’ she said.

Among the states using the federal online exchange, Florida leads the way in the number of applications completed (150,142), number of individuals applying for coverage (281,517), and the number of plans selected (17,908.)

The Sunshine State is home to an estimated 3.8 million uninsured residents younger than age 65, the second-highest rate in the nation behind Texas, according to the U.S. Census.

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