- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - More than 733,000 Texans have signed up for health insurance through the federal marketplace, overcoming significant hurdles and staunch state political opposition to exceed enrollment projections, according to federal data released Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ data show that Texas made up for an early shortfall in the final weeks of open enrollment, surging ahead of the projected 629,000 people federal agencies expected to sign up by March 31.

Texas enrollment is crucial to the program’s overall success because the state has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation, with one in four people lacking insurance. Federal agencies, municipalities and nonprofits invested millions of dollars and significant resources in Texas, including several visits by outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Initially, though, Texas lagged behind, with Florida - another state with similar obstacles - pushing far ahead in enrollment while the Lone Star State appeared to struggle. It appears, though, that in the final weeks, people rushed to sign up. In the end, Florida still beat Texas’ enrollment numbers - with more than 983,000 people signing up, but the gap diminished.

In Texas, of the 733,757 people who selected insurance plans, 67 percent chose the mid-level silver plan that offered slightly higher premiums and lower deductibles. And 84 percent of those that enrolled were eligible for federal subsidies to help offset the cost of the premium. About 30 percent of Texas enrollees are between the ages of 18 and 34, the age group considered crucial to keeping longer-term insurance costs down because they tend to be healthier.

Mimi Garcia is Texas’ state director for Enroll America, a nonprofit established to educate people about President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. As the open enrollment months ticked by and more people understood the program, she slowly saw the numbers increase. In the final weeks, though, it became apparent that it could be far more than had been expected.

In San Antonio alone, more than 4,000 families stood on long lines on the final day of enrollment, most of them at the Alamodome, Garcia said.

“We saw it out in the field, in all our enrollment events,” Garcia said. “People really responded to the deadline. This was something that they needed to do and they didn’t want to miss their opportunity.”

One fact that remains unknown but crucial to understanding if the program can succeed is how many people have actually paid for their new policies.

In Texas, Blue Cross Blue Shield said about 700,000 people signed up for their plans, about 150,000 of them outside the federal marketplace. However, the insurance company said in a statement Thursday, it could not provide exact information on enrollment because many of them don’t have to pay their first bill until May 1 - Thursday.


Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RamitMastiAP

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