- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - More than 177,000 Houston residents signed up for health insurance through the federal marketplace, far exceeding expectations and indicating that an enrollment push just before the deadline may have helped Texas meet projected targets despite months of lagging behind.

As of April 5, some 177,825 Houston residents enrolled for insurance under President Barack Obama’s signature law, according to an email written by Marjorie McColl Petty, the regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Dallas, and obtained by The Associated Press.

Those numbers show an increase from a previous email Petty wrote that said that as of March 29 - two days before the deadline - 149,273 Houston residents had signed up for insurance - further highlighting the last-minute rush.

The expectation had been that 138,000 Houston residents would sign up.

Petty said the Houston team, which created a 13-county regional enrollment network based on the area’s hurricane preparedness experience, inspired her and that “Houston has much for which to be proud and much to teach us.”

These are the first enrollment figures from Texas, where one in four people are uninsured - the highest rate in the nation. The state is considered crucial to the Affordable Care Act’s overall success, but enrollment was slow through February, when Florida’s numbers were nearly double despite similar political obstacles and difficulties.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry staunchly opposes the Affordable Care Act and the state’s Legislature has required “navigators,” or those hired to assist people with signing up, to undergo additional training and background checks.

But in the days before enrollment ended, hospitals, health care workers and officials across the state held massive drives and events to reach the uninsured. Spanish-language advertisements targeted the crucial Hispanic population and health care workers flooded neighborhoods known to have high rates of uninsured. Enrollment locations and hospitals stayed open late. In San Antonio, hundreds of people crowded the Alamodome to sign up on the last day.

The Health and Human Services Department has said that more than 7 million people nationwide have signed up for insurance since Oct. 1, when a glitch-filled open enrollment period began. The department has not yet released state-specific enrollment data.