Healthcare reform has been a difficult process for Floridians, as Republican lawmakers in the state government have vehemently opposed both the Affordable Care Act and expansions to Medicaid. But despite these obstacles, new statistics show that aggressive outreach programs and other initiatives have caused enrollment in Affordable Care Act health plans to surge throughout the state. Now, experts are predicting that this trend could have a significant effect on numerous groups in Florida, particularly African-Americans and other minority populations.
On Tuesday, January 27, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that state and federal healthcare exchanges had enrolled more than 9.5 million people in federal health insurance plans, a full month before the enrollment period is set to close. So far, the data is promising, as only 6.7 million people had enrolled during the exchange’s first year. Additionally, 35% of these enrollees were younger than 35, and 87% qualified for tax credits to offset their premiums, suggesting the process had been smoother and more effective for coverage in 2015.
Statistics varied greatly across the country, but Florida was a clear success story, accounting for a seventh of the total enrollments. Almost three-fourths of the state’s largest marketplaces, defined as areas with at least 2,000 participants, saw enrollment increase at least 20% from last year’s analysis. For example, in the West Palm Springs area, four ZIP codes saw enrollment increase at least 40%. More importantly, however, five Florida ZIP codes where at least a quarter of adult residents are estimated to be uninsured saw total enrollments increase 23%.
These numbers stand in sharp contrast to states like Texas, which has the largest population of uninsured residents of the 37 states listed on Healthcare.gov. For example, the Longhorn state has 35 ZIP codes where at least a quarter of adults are believed to be uninsured, but total enrollments only increased 8.9% from last year. Moreover, Texas has only enrolled 30% of its estimated potential marketplace population, while Florida has hit 51%.
Florida’s success is believed to have been bolstered by a ripple effect: nearly one million people enrolled during the first sign-ups last year. This proved instrumental, as applicants in the heavily Hispanic areas of South Florida and Tampa are believed to have spread information to family members, friends and peers, often even helping them enroll.
The reason behind this organic outreach is clear: minority groups, especially Hispanics and African-Americans, often have the most to gain from federal health insurance. Since the start of the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate among African Americans has declined by as much as 30%, allowing over 1.7 million African-American adults to obtain insurance. As a result, this group, which currently has the highest cancer mortality rate, higher numbers of infant mortality and chronic diseases, and a lower life expectancy than other races, now has a significantly increased access to everything from mammograms to flu shots.
While this change will affect a number of people with varying backgrounds, increased healthcare coverage for minorities will likely have a huge effect on Florida as a whole. In 2013, the U.S. Census Department found that the state’s population was 16.7% African American, 23.6% Hispanic or Latino and 1.9% biracial or multiracial. In contrast, the U.S. was 13.2% African American, 17.1% Hispanic or Latino and 2.4% biracial or multiracial overall, demonstrating the weight and importance of minority populations in the area. Because of this new enrollment, a significant number of Floridians, minority or otherwise, will now be able to visit hospitals, doctors offices, urgent care centers (where an estimated 27% of emergency room visits could be redirected) and other clinics without worrying about cost, creating a healthier state in general.