- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

MIAMI (AP) - Florida is one of several states on track to meet White House projections for enrollment in health plans during the first year of the Affordable Care Act, according to figures released Tuesday.

Health and Human Services officials said more than 442,000 Floridians have signed up for plans since October. That’s not far from the Obama administration’s target goal of 477,000 for the end of March and surpasses the 381,600 goal for the end of February. A dozen other states, including California, are also on track.

During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, the administration refused to directly say whether they thought they’d reach their soft target of 6 million enrollees by March 31. Instead, health officials said they expected a surge in enrollment with millions more Americans signing up in the next few weeks. The 6 million figure comes after the Congressional Budget Office scaled back its original target of 7 million because of ongoing problems with the federal website.

Nationwide, 4.2 million signed up for private coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law, according to data from federal health officials. But with open enrollment ending March 31, that means to meet the goal, another 1.8 million people would have to sign up by the end of the month, an average of about 60,000 a day.

Florida and Texas have two of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country and are both led by Republican lawmakers opposed to the law, who spent little or no state dollar on outreach efforts. Yet, Florida’s enrollments are nearly double that of Texas, which has 295,025, according to federal health officials.

Jodi Ray, who oversees the University of South Florida’s navigator enrollment program, said she didn’t create new programs but partnered with community organizations around the state with strong connections already in place. That made it easy to quickly identify the uninsured and figure out the best way to get them information.

“Families have already been relying on them for this information. They’ve already got a reputation for being a credible source of information. That really makes a difference,” said Ray, whose program received the largest federal navigator grant in the state.

The Obama administration is also making an all-out effort to boost Florida enrollment before the Mar. 31 deadline. Michelle Obama talked about high uninsured rates among black and Hispanics at a Miami community health center last week and Vice President Joe Biden stopped at a local diner last month to encourage a group of local women to sign-up their adult children.

Roughly 24 percent of total Florida enrollees, or more than 106,000, fell into the crucial 18- to 34-year-old demographic. That’s the same percentage as last month, according to enrollment statistics from the feds.

Insurers are counting on the business of the so-called “young invincibles” to offset the costs of covering older, sicker enrollees. The Obama administration has been courting young adults through social media campaigns and celebrity endorsements.

The federal website got a significant boost Tuesday after President Obama made an appearance on the popular comedy website Funny or Die with Zach Galifianakis.

“Roughly 19,000 people who watched the video took an action to log onto healthcare.gov to seek additional information,” said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, officials were unable to say how many of the nation’s 4.2 million who signed up were previously uninsured - the ultimate test of President Barack Obama’s hard-fought overhaul. Bataille said they did not have complete information but hoped to in the future.

The feds also declined to say how many consumers have sealed the deal by paying their premiums


Follow Kelli Kennedy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kkennedyAP

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