Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Obamacare signups in U.S. and Florida fall even shorter than expected

Just 106,000 Americans, including about 3,500 Floridians, chose new health plans during the first month of the troubled Obamacare insurance exchanges, according to federal data released Wednesday. That's a fraction of the enrollment expected by now, and the announcement came amid mounting discontent both from longtime critics of the Affordable Care Act as well as Democrats worried about growing political fallout.

The Florida number is particularly dismal, given that the state has an estimated 3.8 million uninsured residents under age 65. One-fourth of Floridians have no insurance, the second-highest rate in the United States.

Obama administration officials said technical problems with the site clearly prevented people from signing up for coverage. But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters she expects most people won't sign up until the end of the enrollment season in March, a pattern seen in Massachusetts, which began mandating health coverage in 2006.

"Even with the issues we've had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling," she said.

Others, however, were quick to jump on the low figures. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio called the numbers "abysmal" and "another early warning sign that this legislation is deeply flawed and ultimately cannot be fixed."

Even Democrats are getting nervous. In a closed-door meeting Wednesday of House Democrats and White House officials, lawmakers complained the president put them in a bad spot politically by wrongly promising consumers that they could keep their existing health care plans. A vote is expected in the House on Friday on a Republican bill to preserve individual health plans that are being canceled for failing to meet the new law's standards. The White House says that would only let insurers continue to sell plans with skimpy coverage. Still, some Democrats are threatening to support it if the White House doesn't come up with a better idea by Friday.

In general, states like Florida that refused to establish their own exchanges performed especially poorly during the first month of enrollment. Fewer than 27,000 Americans signed up through the federally run website. The rest came through the 15 marketplaces run by states and the District of Columbia.

Across the nation, Medicaid was the success story, even in states that didn't accept federal dollars to expand eligibility. All told, 326,130 people learned their incomes are low enough to qualify for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program — more than three times the number who picked private plans.

In Florida, which refused to expand eligibility, 12,800 more adults and children may be eligible for Medicaid programs. They qualified even under Florida's stringent rules, but may have applied only because of publicity over the insurance marketplace.

Alexis Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children and Families, said Wednesday that the state's Medicaid enrollment increased by about 2,500 people over the month of October. The program is jointly funded by the state and federal government, and the amount of the state budget it consumes is a perennial thorn for many legislators.

Despite published reports suggesting that is far from being fixed, Sebelius insisted it is on track to work well for most people by the end of the month. "We can reasonably expect these numbers will grow substantially over the next five months," she said.

Yet another issue: how the federal system connects with private insurers. Already, stories have emerged of people believing they'd signed up for a particular insurance, yet the carrier had no knowledge of their enrollment.

Open enrollment ends in March, but people who want coverage Jan. 1 must sign up by Dec. 15, a tight deadline officials continue to insist they can meet. "Through all the means we now have for people to apply and enroll in coverage, we believe consumers will be able to have coverage at the time they want," said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The data revealed another surprise: Just about 30 percent of the 1.1 million people who have gone through the Marketplace eligibility process qualify for premium subsidies. That suggests the government may be missing its target audience, another problem officials said they were addressing.

Among the states whose enrollment is being handled by the federal government, Florida actually had the highest enrollment. In Texas, 2,991 selected a plan. Alaska was at the bottom, with just 53 people enrolled.

One point of contention is how enrollment is defined. The administration includes anyone who has selected a marketplace plan. But the health insurance industry says enrollees don't count until they start paying — and that figure wasn't reported.

One of the 3,500 Floridians with a new plan is Beverly Borrelli, 61, of Tarpon Springs.

She started trying the day the site opened, and refused to quit, even through website crashes, enrollment packages that never arrived in the mail, and hours spent on the phone. The process took her more than a month.

Borrelli purchased a Florida Blue mid-tier "silver" plan for $27 a month after her subsidy. Jan. 1, she will have insurance for the first time since her employer of 27 years laid her off in June. Suffering from painful arthritis, Borrelli feared not being able to afford care, especially from her orthopedist.

She has already paid her first month's premium, and says she's glad to be insured despite the hassle.

"I wasn't going to give up," she said.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at or (813) 226-3374.

The grim statistics

While critics jumped on the low numbers, administration officials insist things are getting better.


Total people who have selected

a Marketplace plan


People who have selected a plan on a state-run Marketplace site


People who have selected a plan on federal Marketplace site


Floridians who have selected a plan on federal Marketplace site

7 million

Americans expected to obtain insurance by March 31, 2014

Sources: Health and Human Services, Congressional Budget Office

Obamacare signups in U.S. and Florida fall even shorter than expected 11/13/13 [Last modified: Thursday, November 14, 2013 2:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Cavern' closes westbound lanes on E Fletcher Avenue in Hillsborough County


    Westbound lanes of E Fletcher Avenue are closed near the Hillsborough River to repair what the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office terms a "cavern" that formed under the roadway.

  2. Joss Whedon's ex-wife accuses him of cheating, being 'hypocrite preaching feminist ideals'


    Joss Whedon made his name directing cult television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and big-budget action movies, which often featured women in empowering roles. Many applauded him for being a champion of women, a feminist in an industry accused of misogyny and sexism.

    Joss Whedon at the screening of "Much Ado About Nothing" in 2014. Whedon's ex-wife Kai Cole alleged in an essay published by The Wrap on Sunday that Whedon had multiple affairs during their 16-year marriage. (Associated Press)
  3. Pasco school's parents, principal seek compromise on behavior plan


    Leaders of a Pasco County elementary school that has come under criticism for its new behavior plan have offered an alternative model that sticks to its goals while also better considering younger children who might not understand the original terminology.

    This is the original chart that upset parents with wording such as "anarchy" and "conform to peer pressure" without any context.
  4. Jon Gruden, Rex Ryan meet with Jameis Winston on 'Hard Knocks'


    One of the interesting guest stars on HBO's "Hard Knocks", which covers every minute of the Bucs' training camp and preseason, has been Jon Gruden. The legendary former Tampa Bay coach has popped up from time …

    In a teaser clip from episode 3 of "Hard Knocks", Jon Gruden and fellow former coach Rex Ryan meet with Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston to discuss his past and future in the NFL. [HBO/NFL FILMS]
  5. German police seize thousands of 'Trump' ecstasy tablets


    BERLIN — German police say they have seized thousands of tablets of the party drug ecstasy in the shape of Donald Trump's head, a haul with an estimated street value of 39,000 euros ($45,900.)

    This undated  picture provided by Polizeiinspektion Osnabrueck police shows an ecstasy pill. German police say they have seized thousands of ecstasy pills in the shape of President Donald Trump's head, a haul  with an estimated street value of 39,000 euros ($45,900). Police in Osnabrueck, in northwestern Germany, say they found the drugs during a check Saturday evening on an Austrian-registered car on the A30 highway. [Police Osnabrueck via AP]