By Christopher Curry
More than 670,000 people in Florida signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act during the first month of enrollment for 2015, according to numbers the federal government released Tuesday.
Forty-nine percent were new customers, and 51 percent had coverage through the ACA in 2014 and re-enrolled, the Department of Health and Human
Services report said. Ninety-four percent received financial assistance to purchase insurance in the form of a federal tax subsidy.
An ongoing court challenge has left uncertain the long-term future of those subsidies in states such as Florida where Republican lawmakers opposed to the Affordable Care Act did not establish state-run insurance exchanges.
Lower courts have issued conflicting rulings in cases where plaintiffs argued the subsidies are allowed only in states with their own exchanges. That legal fight is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015.
The first detailed federal report for this enrollment period covered Nov. 15 through Dec. 15. Dec. 15 was the deadline for new ACA customers to sign up to get coverage starting Jan. 1 and for people who had coverage through the ACA in 2014 to take action before they were automatically re-enrolled.
The enrollment numbers for the first month did not yet include individuals who had coverage last year, did not take action by Dec.15 and were then automatically re-enrolled during the three-day span from Dec. 16-18.
The federal government also noted incomplete information and some number gaps for the states that run their own health insurance exchanges.
For example, two of the most populous states — New York and California — reported numbers only for new enrollees.
Nationwide, more than 4 million people signed up for coverage during the first month of enrollment. Half of them were new enrollees. A second enrollment report released this week that included more recent numbers showed much higher enrollment.
The weekly enrollment “snapshot” from the Department of Health and Human Services included numbers through Dec. 26 and reported that 6.5 million have signed up for coverage in 2015 so far.
The Obama administration has set a goal of 9.1 million people enrolled in 2015. The Congressional Budget Office had a loftier projection of 13 million.
During the first month of enrollment for 2015, 70 percent of the people who signed up for coverage identified themselves as white; 11 percent as African-American; 9 percent as Asian; and 8 percent as Latino.
Twenty-four percent were in the 18-34 age group.
The federal government and advocates for the health care law had made priorities of signing up more Latinos and young adults. In a New York Times article, Caroline F. Pearson, the vice president of Avalere Health, a Washington, D.C., health care industry consulting firm, said the federal government has a lot of work left to do to make that a reality.
“We see no signs that the administration has succeeded in getting significantly more young people and Hispanics,” Pearson told The New York Times.
Lauren Vagelakos, who oversees WellFlorida Council’s Affordable Care Act navigator program in North Central Florida, said young adults and Latinos remain a “targeted population we are trying to reach more.”
She said one Spanish-speaking navigator focuses primarily on helping Latinos to sign up, but the population in this area of the state is often spread out and living in rural areas.
The Rural Women’s Health Project recently introduced a Spanish-language publication for North Central Florida, El Bienestar, designed to provide Latinos with information about the Affordable Care Act and how to enroll.
While the deadline to have coverage starting Jan. 1 passed on Dec. 15, the deadline to enroll to have coverage through the Affordable Care Act at any point during 2015 is Feb. 15.