Florida leads the country in new Obamacare sign-ups during an ongoing six-month special enrollment period announced by President Joe Biden shortly after he took office.
The state saw 264,088 new people enroll in the healthcare.gov marketplace between Feb. 15 and April 30, higher than the number of new enrollees during the shorter enrollment periods of 2020 and 2019 combined, the White House told McClatchy on Tuesday. Florida accounts for nearly a third of all new enrollees so far this year in the entire country.
The special enrollment period ends on Aug. 15, so the final tally will be higher.
Christen Young, deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council for Health Care at the White House, said in an interview that the high numbers are an indication that “barriers have been worn down” by temporary new subsidies that were introduced by the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill signed into law earlier this year, known as the American Rescue Plan.
“One thing that has been really interesting as we have been operating the special enrollment period is that the states with the highest levels of uninsured are the states where we are seeing the most activity with the special enrollment period,” Young said. “So states like Texas, and Florida, and South Carolina and North Carolina are among the states that have been doing the best in terms of getting new consumers in who are finding affordable coverage on healthcare.gov.”
Citing the coronavirus emergency, the Biden administration opened up a special enrollment period outside of the typical open enrollment window. The initial period was three months, from February to May, but the Department of Health and Human Services later extended the deadline until Aug. 15.
“The best way to describe it is to undo the damage [former President Donald] Trump has done,” Biden said during brief remarks in the Oval Office before he signed the order in January.
The Trump administration halved the yearly open enrollment period from 12 to six weeks in 2020.
For years, Florida, which has not expanded Medicaid despite the Biden administration’s incentives to states in the COVID relief package to do so, has led the country in Obamacare sign-ups. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 2.1 million Floridians signed up for an Obamacare plan from 2014 to 2021, easily outpacing California, which ranked second in the country with 1.6 million new enrollees during the same time period.
“These places that have historically had high uninsured rates are really seeing a large number of families come in, take a look at their options and find a plan that works for them and their budget,” Young said.
In 2020, a record 870,000 Floridians bought their insurance through a federal exchange, and Miami-Dade County has some of the highest Obamacare sign-up rates in the entire country. The White House wasn’t immediately able to provide county-level data for the latest sign-up period.
Young credited the COVID relief bill, which became law in March in a near party-line vote in Congress, for helping lower the costs of premiums and deductibles for Americans shopping on the exchanges.
“The COVID relief bill has had a tremendous impact when it comes to lowering premiums for families that are shopping on healthcare.gov,” she said. “Four out of five people that are shopping can get a plan for less than $10 per person per month. Premiums are about 40% lower on average than they were prior to enactment of these lower-cost options. And families are seeing $50 per person per month lower. So that’s savings of hundreds of dollars per year.”
The administration is now pushing for a permanent extension of those subsidies in the American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion plan that is separate from the American Rescue Plan and would expand government benefits to families, children and students while raising taxes on wealthy Americans.
“We think it’s critically important that Congress extend those enhancements so that families can continue to benefit from lower health insurance premiums now and into the future,” she said.
The healthcare exchanges were a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act signed into law by former President Barack Obama in 2010, designed to let individual consumers shop for private health insurance plans. But enrollment in the exchanges lagged during much of Trump’s time in office, coinciding with his vow to repeal the law known as “Obamacare.”
McClatchy White House correspondent Alex Roarty contributed to this report.