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As deadline nears, health insurance enrollments slowly pick up

With a key deadline looming, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department announced Wednesday that 364,682 people have signed up for private health insurance coverage as of Nov. 30 under the federal health law. Although that's more than three times the October total, it's less than one-third of the 1.2 million people officials had originally projected would enroll nationwide by the end of November.

Consumers have until Dec. 23 to sign up for coverage that will take effect Jan. 1.

In Florida, more than 281,500 people applied for coverage through healthcare.gov between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30. Only about 18,000 of them, however, actually enrolled in private plans. Another 19,000 were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program.

The number of sign-ups for private plans is still a tiny sliver of Florida's population, though it did pick up significantly over the month of November. By the end of October, only 3,500 Floridians had enrolled in plans.

The administration report found a total of 137,204 people enrolled in the states served by the federal web site — including Florida — by the end of November, up from 26,794 in October. Florida was the leader among states with federally run markets.

The 14 states running their own sites enrolled 227,478 people, up from 79,391 in October.

The administration report came as HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius returned to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday morning for another grilling from Republicans committed to repealing the law, not to mention Democrats angry over a rollout Sebelius herself called a debacle.

The site went live on Oct. 1 and immediately turned into an impenetrable maze for most consumers. A two-month program of fixes directed by White House troubleshooter Jeffrey Zients stabilized the site and made it more workable, resolving hundreds of software glitches and adding more hardware to handle high demand from consumers.

With his poll ratings in a dive, Obama not only accepted the blame for website woes, but personally apologized for the canceled individual insurance policies. The cancellations issue is highly sensitive politically because it contradicts Obama's promise that if you like your coverage you would be able to keep it.

The president sought to calm the backlash by allowing states and insurers to extend existing plans for another year. Thirty-eight — including Florida — have done so, according to analysis by the consulting firm Avalere Health.

Meanwhile, a new poll announced by Consumer Reports on Wednesday found that Americans are more confused by the health law now than they were Oct. 1. For instance, many people believe incorrectly that it is a government health care plan, when it really is based on the privately run insurance system.

The administration had set a goal of signing up 7 million people by the end of open enrollment season March 31. HHS health reform director Mike Hash says they're still "on track" to meet it. Uninsured people who procrastinate beyond that date will face tax penalties when they file their returns for the 2014 tax year.

Information from the Associated Press and Times staff writer Jodie Tillman was used in this report.

As deadline nears, health insurance enrollments slowly pick up 12/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 1:42pm]
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