More Floridians are signing up for the new federal health insurance program than residents in any other state relying on the federal exchange, with nearly 18,000 registering over the last two months, according to figures released Wednesday.
Nearly 14,500 Floridians signed up under the Affordable Care Act in November. That compares to about 11,000 in Texas - another populous state that's using the federal government's website, according to enrollment statistics from the Health and Human Services Department
Florida's November enrollment figures are considerably higher than the dismal 3,500 in October when sign-ups were hampered by technical glitches with healthcare.gov. But it's still far less than what officials had originally projected for Florida and nationwide.
Wednesday's enrollment statistics showed that 364,682 people nationwide have signed up for private coverage as of Nov. 30. That figure is less than one-third of the 1.2 million people officials had originally projected would enroll nationwide by the end of November. Federal health officials said during a conference call with the media Tuesday night that they expect the numbers to grow in the coming months, with a likely surge close to the March enrollment deadline.
The Obama administration projected 7 million consumers would sign up for coverage during the first year, including about 477,000 in Florida.
Experts have been working around the clock to fix the troubled website, and federal health officials have said the site is now working for the vast majority of users.
Jodi Ray, who oversees the navigators for the University of South Florida, recently sat down with a family and completed one application through the website and another for the children's Medicaid program in less than an hour.
"It worked that fast. It was that easy," she said.
Since the site launched at the beginning of October, 281,517 Floridians have taken the first step in applying for coverage and 75,480 are eligible for a subsidy to help pay for it, according to federal health officials. But the enrollment data was not broken down into detailed demographic information. Ray said Florida applicants don't fit a particular profile, so far.
"They're not necessarily the sickly. They're not necessarily the poor. They're not necessarily the white or Hispanic. They are a whole range of demographics," she said.
The Obama administration and insurers are working desperately to target healthy, young adults as they need them to enroll in the marketplace to offset the costs of paying for older, sicker consumers.
The federal health law is facing several hurdles in the wake of the botched website rollout. The administration must find a way to lure frustrated consumers back to the improved website, which now includes a reset button so consumers can start their bungled applications from scratch. Federal health officials are also giving priority to those who visited the site in the past two months, but couldn't complete their application because of technical problems. Many consumers are receiving an email inviting them back to the site and the response has been strong, said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
But many navigators fear it will be difficult to complete the enrollment process before the Dec. 23 deadline, which allow consumers to start getting health coverage in January.
Navigator Allie Stern sat alone in her South Florida office last week waiting on a no-show appointment. Most counselors were unable to enroll consumers on the spot in October and November because of the website glitches and instead scheduled follow-up appointments for when the site was functioning more smoothly.
"People make appointments and they don't show up," she said.
Officials must also fix crucial back-end problems causing a massive backlog of applications that insurance agents and brokers can't process because of problems with the federal website, including incomplete enrollment files sent electronically to insurance companies.