The open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act closed last week with millions of new additions to the insurance system in America. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not yet released an official report on nationwide sign-up numbers, but officials posted on the department's Facebook page on Feb. 18 that about 11.4 million people had signed up for health insurance during the second enrollment period. Given that the government expected around 9.1 million people to sign up this year, the early estimate is a mark of victory for the Obama administration and supporters of the ACA.
On top of the good news for nationwide sign-ups comes even more good news from Florida: The Sunshine State has surpassed everyone else in the country for total enrollment numbers at more than 1.6 million sign-ups this season. ACA mega-state California held the lead last year with its total enrollment numbers but trails behind Florida this year with 1.4 million enrolled. California had set high target for this year's enrollment, but the state fell short by about 300,000 sign-ups. Despite the setbacks in California, nationwide enrollment is much higher this year than it was last year, and Florida's impressive statistics signal faith in Obamacare.
State vs. Federal Enrollment
Experts are surprised by Florida's high enrollment numbers for several reasons. First, Florida's Republican leaders have done little to support the new healthcare law. In fact, many government officials in Florida have actively worked against implementation to the point that Florida is one of the states that chose not to expand Medicaid. On the other side of the country, California has taken active strides to expand Medicaid and encourage its residents to sign up for healthcare. The state also continues to push for Latino enrollment, which represents a large portion of its uninsured population, but efforts in this area have not yet proved fruitful.
California has also created its own state health insurance exchange while Florida continues to use the federal site for enrollment. Coupled with the relative size of each state, it comes as a surprise to many that Florida ousted California for the lead this year. However, the trend continues throughout the country. According to CBSNews.com, "Enrollment increased by 58 percent in the 37 states served by the federal market, compared to a 9 percent increase among state-operated exchanges such as California's." Most consumers have to use the federal site to sign up for ACA insurance because few states have successfully created their own exchanges.
Trouble on the Horizon
Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the issue of subsidies that are currently available to anyone who qualifies. The case challenges the language of the law itself, which only provides subsidies for those who sign up for insurance using a state-run exchange. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of this interpretation, then millions of consumers could be left without a means of paying for insurance. Prior to the ACA, Florida ranked third for the highest number of uninsured residents. Without access to federal subsidies, many of the state's enrollees could not afford coverage.
Despite the legal challenges that the ACA continues to face, experts agree that the system is working for millions of Americans. Several states have opted to expand Medicaid after all, and Indiana became the most recent Republican-led state to jump on board the Medicaid expansion bandwagon. Last year, the first enrollment period struggled to take off due to technical glitches and general confusion. In 2015, consumers are more educated about their rights and responsibilities under the new law, and higher-than-anticipated enrollment numbers indicate continued success in the program.