Florida is again surging ahead in Affordable Care Act sign ups, with nearly half a million people opting for coverage three weeks into the enrollment period.
Since Nov. 1, when the period began, 463,066 Floridians have signed up for health insurance next year under the act, commonly known as Obamacare, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The agency tracks enrollment in the 39 states that use the federal exchange.
Nationally, nearly 1.7 million Americans have signed up for Obamacare health plans that will cover them in 2020.
Advocates of the program say they are confident Florida will once again lead the nation in open enrollment signs ups. The period ends Dec. 15.
“For Florida, it’s working. There are people here who need health insurance, and this is their option,” said Jodi Ray, executive director of Florida Covering Kids & Families, a navigator program based at the University of South Florida.
“We try to tell people that it’s worth taking a look and shopping around, because 93 percent of people who enroll qualify for tax credits," she said. "Eight-eight percent of people are able to select plans that cost as low as $75 a month.”
The USF group used to be one of several in the state to receive federal funding for open enrollment marketing and consumer assistance. Last year, it became the state’s sole support service, and its budget was cut by 80 percent.
Despite a dip in enrollment nationally, Florida saw record sign ups last year. Nearly 1.8 million people enrolled for 2019, the most of any of the 39 states that use the exchange. That was up over the 1.7 million Floridians who signed up the previous year.
The state with the second-most sign ups so far this year is Texas with 229,167. Georgia is third with 105,653.
During an outreach event early this month at USF in Tampa, Brittney Miller signed up for Affordable Care Act coverage for the second year in a row.
Miller, 30, owns Skin Radiance Med Spa in Tampa. As a single mother, she said, it was hard to find affordable health insurance for herself, so she went without it for awhile.
“After my divorce, I went a full year without any insurance, which is of course when I had a bunch of issues,” Miller said. “As my own boss, I don’t have any other options. I had to find a plan for myself.”
That’s why she looked into the federal exchange. Last year was the first year she enrolled under the Affordable Care Act.
Her 2019 plan was affordable and covered all her needs, she said. Miller was planning to re-enroll in the same plan when a navigator with USF showed her a few other options.
“I was really happy with what I had last year, but my needs were slightly different this year,” she said. “I wanted vision, and found a plan that had that and more for a cheaper price.”
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She paid around $50 a month in premiums last year. Without subsidies, the plan was nearly $400 a month, which she said she wouldn’t be able to afford.
“It can be a really overwhelming process to find a plan that fits your needs,” she said. “There are so many options out there and there is a deadline. It’s easy to get busy and put it off, but I try to tell as many people as I can that this is really good option.”
Not everyone has managed to find an affordable plan. Nearly 2.7 Florida residents do not have health insurance. Many earn too much to qualify for a subsidized plan under the Affordable Care Act.
In a recent survey of Florida adults, 56 percent said the primary reason they went uncovered was the cost. And 72 percent agreed that the U.S. health care care system “needs to change.”
The results were released in September by Altarum, a nonprofit research and consulting group with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
At the recent USF event, John Kyle Rohde, 50, from Safety Harbor signed up for an Obamacare plan for the fifth year in a row.
“Until they started the ACA, I never had health insurance in my life,” said Rohde, a musician who performs in beach bars and restaurants around Pinellas County. “I could never afford it.”
He relied on walk-in clinics mostly for care, and paid cash out of his pocket.
“I tried not to go to the ER, but a couple of times I had to. Those bills kill you,” Rohde said.
He said he was surprised by how affordable the plans were when he first enrolled. His plan costs him about $120 a month with subsidies.
“I think the stigma around Obamacare is silly," Rohde said. "I have family members who won’t check it out just because of that. It doesn’t hurt to check it out and see what you can get.”
Obamacare open enrollment
- Ends Dec. 15.
- Even if you’ve already enrolled in a marketplace plan, it’s important to update personal information to ensure the best tax credit and premium prices.
- Book appointments for in-person, virtual or phone assistance with Covering Florida by calling 877-813-9115 or visit coveringflorida.org.
- The Family Healthcare Foundation will host face-to-face appointments at the St. Petersburg Library and the Hunt Center in Tampa every Saturday during open enrollment. For more information call 877-813-9115 or (813) 995-1066. Appointments can be scheduled online at Familyhealthcarefdn.org/enroll.