Obamacare, Affordable Care Act: 3,571 Floridians select health plan

MIAMI (AP) -- Slightly more than 3,500 Floridians have selected health insurance plans through the state exchange run by the federal government as part of the Affordable Care Act, according to figures released Wednesday.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not clarify whether the 3,571 people cited had actually purchased an insurance policy or merely selected a plan.

Although the first month's enrollment figures were low, Florida boasted the highest enrollment figures among the three-dozen states where the federal government is running the new exchanges through the troubled healthcare.gov website. Florida's enrollment figures compare to 2,991 in Texas and roughly 2,200 in Pennsylvania.

Nationally, fewer than 27,000 enrolled through the federal website, while another 79,000 signed up through state-run exchanges.

As technical glitches with the website spiraled out of control, federal health officials repeatedly declined to say how many had successfully completed applications. The website crashed early on the Oct. 1 launch date and users have struggled to create accounts and browse health plans. Federal health officials said Wednesday that 67,366 Floridians had completed applications. After completing applications, buyers are presented with different health plans they can choose.

"We are clearly here on the 13th of November not where we want to be," said Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who called the website problems "enormously frustrating."

During a media phone call, she predicted enrollment figures would rise as many will make several visits to the website to shop around before actually making a purchase.

"I don't find it discouraging at this point that people have gone through the process and not purchased a plan," she said.

For the past month, counselors hired to help applicants with the process have reminded them that they have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage that begins in January. Other counselors, also known as navigators, have relied on paper applications and many took down applicants' contact information, intending to call them back when the website is working smoothly.

Experts have been working around the clock to fix the troubled website, and Sebelius and Obama have said the majority of applicants should be able to enroll through the website by the end of the month.

"We've been fairly unsuccessful from the beginning due to the problem . and we've had limited success on the paper applications," said Kevin Cate, a spokesman for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida. "The website is the biggest hindrance to people applying and enrolling, and as it gets better we expect the numbers to be significantly higher."

Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country with roughly 3.5 million lacking coverage.

"We will do whatever it takes to get these people enrolled. We all live with disappointments, and when this thing gets fixed we'll be able to go at it a little bit faster," said Andy Behrman, president and CEO of Florida Association of Community Health Centers.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature have been vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act. Before the Oct. 1 enrollment launch, Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi repeatedly expressed concerns that applicants' private information may not be adequately protected in the federal data hub. State health officials also banned navigators from doing outreach at county health departments.

But Florida Republicans have been largely quiet in the past month as the problems with so-called "Obamacare" seemed to generate enough negative publicity without help from the GOP. Questions about its security mounted and at least 300,000 Floridians received notices that their policies were being cancelled, undercutting the president's vow that those who liked their coverage could keep it.

"Obamacare is having a big problem in our state," Scott said during an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday. Scott entered politics running ads against the Affordable Care Act.

"Cleary the president's promise that if you liked your insurance you could keep it is not working in Florida. It's heading in the absolute wrong direction," the governor said.

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