One month in, most Americans rate the federal health insurance rollout a fiasco, according to the latest monthly poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The poll released Friday found that 80 percent of Americans gave the government poor or fair marks in its implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
But a Tampa-based advocate of the law says it’s still too early in the six-month enrollment period to know how things are going.
“I’m going to remain optimistic, because we’ve only completed the first month,” said Jodi Ray, director of the Florida Covering Kids & Families program at the University of South Florida. The group has 110 “navigators” canvassing the state, and on its own aims to sign up 29,000 uninsured Floridians by the March 31 deadline.
Since opening Oct. 1, glitches and full-fledged breakdowns of the federally run healthcare.gov website have marred efforts in Florida and 34 other states to enroll millions of uninsured Americans, as well as those who purchase their own individual policies.
Administration officials last week refused to release enrollment details from the insurance marketplace at congressional hearings, but records show just a few hundred people were able to complete applications during the website’s first few days. Ray also declined to release specifics about the USF program’s enrollment, as it is part of a federal grant.
Initial sign-up numbers from states operating their own exchanges are far better, including news of 37,000 completed applications in New York. Still, there is concern the rollout won’t be able to reach Congressional Budget Office enrollment estimates of 7 million Americans in the first year.
Despite the hiccups launching this, the most significant part of the Affordable Care Act, the Kaiser poll shows that American attitudes toward the law haven’t changed much. This most recent poll says 47 percent of those asked still want to keep the law or expand its coverage. That’s close to the 49 percent who said the same a year ago.
The health law requires nearly all Americans have health insurance by Jan. 1, and the online exchange exists primarily to provide commercial plans to the uninsured or those who can’t pay for coverage, roughly 25 percent of the population. In Florida, 75 percent of its residents already have some form of insurance, through an employer or with programs such as Medicare.
USF’s Covering Kids & Families is the largest of several organizations given grants this summer to educate and sign up some of an estimated 4 million uninsured Floridians, many of whom have incomes low enough to qualify for tax credits or subsidies on monthly premiums.
Ray said its counselors — called navigators — have been able to help people apply online. But, she said, her team has resorted to the other official application routes — phone and paper mailing forms — to find out if people qualify for subsidies on their monthly health insurance premiums. (Individuals with income between $11,490 and $45,960 are eligible for some assistance with plans bought through the exchange.)
“We’re able to switch gears, depending on what the situation is,” she said.
The processing of these other, non-website applications makes it difficult to get hard data on the number of people who have successfully completed applications for insurance, said Rebecca Whitaker, a director at the North Carolina Community Health Center Association, which is responsible for some enrollment in that state.
Anecdotally, the people visiting Covering Kids & Families navigators are as diverse as Florida’s population, from young adults to Hispanics in their early 60s, Ray said. She’s seen some successfully apply and select plans where, after income and subsidies are determined, they will pay premiums between $20 and $45 a month.
Ray said her navigators are not limiting their enrollment efforts over the next five months. They’ve got a lot of people to reach, and she’s confident the goals can be met.
“Once the website picks up, we can be pretty effective,” she said.