In one Hialeah ZIP Code, where signs selling “Obamacare” are plastered across storefronts and cover freeway billboards, more people have selected a plan on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange than in any spot in the country, according to the data release by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday.
Despite the political rancor associated with the healthcare reform law, residents of Hialeah signed up in record numbers for coverage in 2015. A total of 12,330 people in Hialeah’s 33012 ZIP Code selected a plan or were re-enrolled as of mid-January, the highest number in any ZIP Code in the 37 states that use the HealthCare.gov platform.
The number illustrates a 19 percent increase in enrollments in the 33012 ZIP Code from last year. The data reflects plan selections between Nov. 15 and Jan. 16 and could change if consumers fail to pay their monthly premiums. The enrollment period opened Nov.15 and ends Feb. 15.
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The other ZIP Codes in the top five: 33126 in Miami, 33313 in Fort Lauderdale, 33015 in Hialeah and 33165 in Miami, each with enrollment between 8,000 and 9,000.
The streets and stores in Hialeah show how far the Obamacare brand has extended. Consumers can sign up for coverage in a mall, at a discount store, at a shoe store, and even at a barber shop.
Ammer Cabrera, manager at one of two Sunshine Life & Health Advisers storefronts in Westland Mall, helped sign up the flood of consumers who came to his location last year seeking coverage. This year, he said, the market is more competitive with enrollment centers setting up shop just about anywhere.
“My barber was asking me what I was doing and I told him, and he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, us too,’” Cabrera said. “I’m like, ‘Are you serious? You’ve been cutting hair for 25 years and now you’re an insurance agent?’ That’s a microcosm of what’s going on specifically in Miami.”
Drive down West 49th Street and you’ll see the signs. In one 12-block stretch, two insurance agencies display Obamacare signs in their windows and a mustard yellow Obamacare sign entices consumers on the front of a Bank of America building.
The saturation seems to be working. Auri Barrios, a cashier at Palm Springs General Hospital in the top enrollment zip code, encouraged her boyfriend, Osdrey Lopez, to sign up for coverage after she was handed a flyer for Tropical Insurance Agency while stopped at a red light. She showed it to Lopez.
“He got here from Cuba a year ago and he got Medicaid but then after, he didn’t have anything else,” Barrios, 42, said. “He went to apply and it went really well. He got a plan for $20 a month.”
Now she refers patients at the hospital to the agency from the flier or to nearby Westland Mall.
While sign-ups in Hispanic-heavy Hialeah are high, Hispanics nationwide are still lagging behind other groups in signing up for coverage.
By the end of 2014, only 8 percent of people who had signed up nationwide were Hispanic, according to the latest federal data.
The numbers are likely to be different in Miami-Dade, where the population is predominantly Hispanic, said Felipe Pinzon, vice president of programs at Hispanic Unity of Florida, a nonprofit social service agency based in Hollywood.
“There are more uninsured clients eligible in Miami-Dade,” Pinzon said. “And more marketing material. For this kind of service, you have to have more grassroots outreach.”
According to the latest U.S. Census data from 2013, Miami-Dade has the second-highest rate of uninsured residents under 65 with 34.4 percent — behind only Hendry County with 35 percent — and the highest overall number of uninsured people in the state, at about 744,000. Broward County reported an uninsured rate of 26 percent.
Nicholas Duran, state director for Enroll America, a nonprofit that advocates for people to get coverage, said that healthcare activists know Hialeah has a high proportion of uninsured people and are focusing their activities there.
Duran also said that people who signed up last year have been spreading the word about the availability of affordable coverage.
“It's a ripple effect,” he said. “They're talking to their friends, families, neighbors and churches about their coverage.”
As the program rolls into its second year, misconceptions about eligibility and increased awareness on the opportunity for low-priced plans has brought more people out to apply, Pinzon said.
At Sunshine Life & Health Advisers in Hialeah Thursday morning, Martha Hernandez said the marketing efforts pushed her to come in.
Hernandez, a housekeeper in Flagler Street, who didn’t have health coverage before last year, drove to Hialeah just to re-enroll.
“Through the TV, through the radio, I’ve read about it in the newspaper,” Hernandez said. “I came here because it was the one they were announcing the most on TV.”
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This story was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.