Florida drives surge in Obamacare enrollment

Despite the Affordable Care Act's uncertain fate, nearly 1.3 million Floridians have enrolled in coverage for 2017, up from about 1.1 million at this time last year for 2016 coverage, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Wednesday.

 

Burwell said the 14 percent increase in Florida is due partly to a push by the state's navigators, who offer free, unbiased assistance to consumers.

 

Melanie Hall, who oversees a navigator program called Covering Tampa Bay, said her team was busier in November than any other month since Obamacare became law.

 

"We had several folks work 14 days straight in order to meet the demand," she said.

 

The total so far for Florida includes more than 214,000 people from the Tampa Bay area. Other large markets in Florida for enrollment are Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.

 

The rise in Florida is in keeping with a national trend. Nationwide, 6.4 million people have signed up for coverage for 2017, an increase of nearly 7 percent from this time last year.

 

Burwell said the figures prove "that doomsday predictions about the marketplace were wrong" — and that people both want and need coverage.

 

"The marketplace is strong," she said.

 

The numbers will likely rise. While the deadline to buy coverage starting New Year's Day has passed, consumers have until Jan. 31 to select a plan for 2017.

 

Burwell said the federal health department is planning a "hard push" for the final six weeks of the open enrollment period.

 

She conceded the presence of "headwinds" — namely a promise from Republican lawmakers and President-elect Donald Trump to repeal the health law. But she stressed the Affordable Care Act is still "the law of the land" and each plan is a contract for 2017, regardless of what happens in Congress. "The best thing folks can do right now is to shop and get covered," she said.

 

Earlier in the day, a report from the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund found the share of uninsured adults in Florida had dropped 9 percentage points since the ACA marketplace was enacted in 2013. The report also noted a 5 percentage point dip in the share of uninsured kids.

 

Still, the study characterized Florida's uninsured rate as among the nation's highest. Last year, one in five adults was uninsured, the report found. About one in 14 children lacked coverage.

 

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

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