Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Health

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 healthcare.gov 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 healthcare.gov 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 [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.

Comments
Preventive treatment for peanut allergies succeeds in study

Preventive treatment for peanut allergies succeeds in study

The first treatment to help prevent serious allergic reactions to peanuts may be on the way. A company said Tuesday that its daily capsules of peanut flour helped sensitize children to nuts in a major study. Millions of children have peanut allergies...
Published: 02/20/18
Doctors were wrong when they told her immunotherapy wouldn’t cure her cancer

Doctors were wrong when they told her immunotherapy wouldn’t cure her cancer

No one expected the four young women to live much longer. They had an extremely rare, aggressive and fatal form of ovarian cancer. There was no standard treatment.The women, strangers to one another living in different countries, asked their doctors ...
Published: 02/20/18

Hernando Bloodmobile for Feb. 23

Bloodmobile locationsLifeSouth Community Blood Center will have blood drives at the following off-site locations during the coming week:Feb. 23: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Walmart, 13300 Cortez Blvd., Spring Hill; 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Dickey’s Barbecue P...
Published: 02/20/18
Be prepared to help save a life: Learn CPR

Be prepared to help save a life: Learn CPR

70 percent of cardiac arrests outside hospitals happen at home. American Heart Association 3 a.m. Jan. 4, 2016. Lisa Peters of St. Petersburg is awakened by her husband, Rick, making strange gasping sounds. She can’t wake him. He feels cold. Only 46...
Published: 02/16/18

Step by step, ramp up your daily activity

Jae Bermanhe Washington Post There are many reasons that people avoid exercise. Time is an obvious one. Our lives are already busy — who has time to work out? Money is another common excuse. Gym memberships and equipment can get pricey.People often w...
Published: 02/16/18
Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Nothing says indulgence like noshing on some seriously giant Alaskan king crab legs. They’re not just tasty, they’re a low-fat source of protein: One leg has about 25 grams of protein and a host of vitamins and minerals (including sodium, incidentall...
Published: 02/15/18
Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

You’ve likely seen persimmon in the grocery store and then shied away from it, not quite sure what to do with it. The most common variety in the United States is the fuyu persimmon, also called Japanese persimmon, and it looks similar to a slightly f...
Published: 02/15/18
News co-anchor Dan Harris delves into meditation, and why being distracted is ‘a victory’

News co-anchor Dan Harris delves into meditation, and why being distracted is ‘a victory’

Emma Seppalahe Washington PostDan Harris is co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline and the weekend editions of Good Morning America. His first book, 10% Happier, was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. He later launched the 10% Happier podcast and an app called...
Published: 02/15/18

Mayo Clinic Q&A: exercise stress tests; breast self-awareness versus self-exams

DON’T SWEAT THE EXERCISE STRESS TESTI have a treadmill stress test scheduled to look for heart disease. I know this involves exercising, and I’m worried that I’m not physically up to it. Is there another way to gather this information?Yes. There’s an...
Published: 02/15/18
Gay doctor takes a drug to prevent HIV. Then he couldn’t get disability insurance

Gay doctor takes a drug to prevent HIV. Then he couldn’t get disability insurance

Three years ago, Dr. Philip J. Cheng, a urology resident at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, nicked himself while preparing an HIV-positive patient for surgery.Following hospital protocol, he took a one-month course of Truvada, a cocktail of t...
Published: 02/15/18