With a month remaining to sign up for a health plan through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces, Florida leads the 37 states using the federally run exchange in the number of people who selected a plan or were automatically re-enrolled, the Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday.
Nearly 1.2 million Floridians have signed up for a plan since open enrollment began Nov. 15, HHS reported, exceeding the Sunshine State’s total for the prior year, when 983,775 consumers selected a plan. That number was later reduced to account for those who didn’t keep up with their payments.
Nationwide, about 6.8 million Americans selected a health plan or were automatically re-enrolled during the current sign-up period, which ends Feb. 15. In the first month of sign-ups, about 87✔ percent qualified to receive financial aid to pay monthly premiums, HHS reported.
But while national enrollment numbers so far are on pace to exceed the prior year’s total of 8 million, government health officials and advocacy groups said they will focus outreach efforts in the final month on a particularly hard-to-reach group: Hispanics.
In a call with reporters Wednesday, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the federal government is spending more than it did the previous year to reach Hispanics through Spanish-language media — about one-third of the paid media budget, she said, compared with 10 percent last year.
Burwell said Hispanics should find it easier to enroll this year because of upgrades to healthcare.gov, including improved processing of hyphenated names, better verification of identity, and software that allows consumers to shop for a plan on a smart phone.
Nearly a third of those who visit healthcare.gov use a mobile device, she said, but on the Spanish-language website, CuidadoDeSalud.com, the number is nearly half of all users.
“We’re particularly focused on this community,’’ Burwell said, “because we believe there are health disparities that having health insurance will help.’’
Burwell said the Obama administration’s enrollment target for the second year of the ACA’s health insurance exchanges is 9.1 million people. She wouldn’t specify a target for Hispanic enrollment.
Consumers who buy a health plan on the ACA exchange are not required to provide information on their ethnic or racial background, but are asked to do so voluntarily.
Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, a nonprofit that advocates for coverage Americans to sign up for health insurance through the ACA, said Hispanics experienced some of the largest health insurance coverage gains among all groups last year.
But “because this community’s uninsured rate was so high to begin with,’’ she said, “it’s still true today that Latinos are more likely to be uninsured than other Americans.’’
Burwell said HHS’s most recent data show 2.6 million Hispanics between 18 and 64 have gained health insurance since October 2013, reflecting a 7.7 percent drop in the uninsured rate among Hispanics.
However, the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports research on health reform, found that among Hispanics living in states that did not expand their Medicaid programs, including Florida, the uninsured rate remained statistically unchanged at about 33 percent.
Many uninsured Hispanics living in South Florida are the working poor who fall into the so-called “coverage gap,’’ meaning they do not earn enough to qualify for Medicaid — or they are categorically exempt, such as childless adults — and they do not earn enough to be eligible for financial aid to buy a plan on the ACA exchange.
Josie Bacallao, president of Hispanic Unity of Florida, a nonprofit social service agency based in Hollywood, said that the group’s five enrollment counselors have met with an estimated 600 people to help them apply for coverage through the ACA exchange this enrollment period.
But only about 250 of those clients signed up.
The rest are living in the coverage gap, Bacallao said, though she added that a small number were undocumented immigrants, who do not qualify for any help under the ACA.
“It is the big doughnut hole of healthcare coverage,’’ she said.