Health Care

Florida leads way as Obamacare enrollment outpaces prior years

In this February 2015 photo, a consumer reviews Affordable Care Act coverage options with an insurance agent at a Flagler Street brokerage. Sign-ups for ACA plans on healthcare.gov during the first three weeks of open enrollment for 2018 coverage have outpaced prior years, with more than 2.2 million Americans, including nearly 500,000 people in Florida, selecting a plan, according to federal estimates.
In this February 2015 photo, a consumer reviews Affordable Care Act coverage options with an insurance agent at a Flagler Street brokerage. Sign-ups for ACA plans on healthcare.gov during the first three weeks of open enrollment for 2018 coverage have outpaced prior years, with more than 2.2 million Americans, including nearly 500,000 people in Florida, selecting a plan, according to federal estimates. MIAMI HERALD/FILE

Florida Obamacare enrollment counselors are seeing “a lot of enthusiasm” for the beleaguered program, despite a shorter sign-up period and less federal money for advertising, they said Wednesday.

Nationally, more than 2.2 million Americans have signed up for coverage on healthcare.gov through Nov. 18, including nearly 500,000 Floridians, more than any of the 39 states using the federal exchange, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported Wednesday.

Three weeks into the enrollment period, sign-ups for 2018 Affordable Care Act plans are outpacing the prior year despite uncertainty over the law, and even with the ongoing debate in Congress over repeal of the individual mandate requiring eligible Americans to sign up for coverage or pay a fine. Enrollment ends on Dec. 15.

There’s some evidence of a slowdown, though. About 78,000 fewer people signed up for ACA coverage during the third week of open enrollment compared to the prior week, adding to uncertainty about whether 2018 sign-ups will surpass prior year totals.

In the past two years, though, Florida has enrolled more consumers than any other state.

“We’re thrilled that Florida once again leads the nation in getting covered,” said Karen Basha Egozi, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, which received a $720,000 federal grant this year to provide in-person counseling for consumers.

Last year, the group received $1.7 million to provide counseling, but despite the cut, Egozi said in a written statement that enrollment counselors, called navigators, are seeing “a lot of enthusiasm” among consumers.

With fewer resources from the Trump administration for signing up consumers, insurance companies and nonprofit advocates of the health law have stepped up marketing efforts.

But the uptick in enrollment also may stem from an unintended consequence of the Trump administration’s canceling a key subsidy that helps low-income Americans pay for out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles and co-payments.

The health law still provides subsidies to help eligible Americans lower their monthly premiums, though. And because Florida regulators required ACA insurers to account for the Trump administration’s order, the premium subsidies spiked.

The result? Nearly 98 percent of counties in states using healthcare.gov have free coverage options for low-income consumers who are 50 and older and earning 150 percent of the federal poverty level or less (about $18,090 for an individual or $36,900 for a family of four), according to an analysis by Avalere Health, a consulting company.

In Florida, eligible low-income consumers can find at least one free coverage option in all 67 counties, Avalere’s analysis found.

Raul Sahagun, vice president of Health Family Insurance, a broker contracted to sell ACA plans for Molina Healthcare in five states including Florida, said the company had seen a 30 percent increase in sign-ups during the first week of open enrollment when compared to the same period last year.

“It looks like individuals have that sense of urgency,” Sahagun said.

There’s some evidence of a slowdown, though. . About 78,000 fewer people signed up for ACA coverage during the third week of open enrollment compared to the prior week, adding to uncertainty about whether 2018 sign-ups will surpass prior year totals.

Daniel Chang: 305-376-2012, @dchangmiami

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