AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — About 14,000 Texans enrolled for health insurance in October and November on the embattled federal online exchange, nearly five times more than successfully navigated the site during its rocky opening month, but still a tiny tally for such a large state, according to figures released Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that Texas trailed only Florida and its nearly 18,000 signups over the same two-month period for the highest number of enrollees among the 36 states relying on federally run health insurance marketplaces.
In all, 14,038 Texans selected a plan between October 1 and November 30, while almost 118,600 applied, seeking coverage for more than 244,700 people — including themselves and others, like spouses and children.
The numbers are improving from the site’s problem-plagued opening weeks: Only 2,991 Texans managed to select a health insurance plan in October. Because the state has the highest rate of uninsured Americans — more than 23 percent — there’s still a long way to go.
Texas is using the federal health exchange website because the GOP-controlled state Legislature opted not to create a state-run marketplace as part of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Gov. Rick Perry also has refused to enact a provision in the new health law to expand Medicaid and cover more of the working poor.
As of the end of last month, about 137,000 people had enrolled in the 36 states served by the federal website — that was up from nearly 27,000 in October. Enrollment was stronger in the 14 states running their own websites, where nearly 227,500 picked health care plans through November compared with less than 79,400 in October alone.
Time is running short as consumers face a Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for coverage to start Jan. 1. Federal officials have scrambled to revamp the federal site at HealthCare.gov, but some problems remain.
Many were on display Wednesday at a San Antonio library, where nearly a dozen people seeking coverage simultaneously left without choosing an insurance plan because of problems with the online system. Some gave up after trying for two hours to enroll.
Lisa Salazar, 50, told a navigator — or counselor who can help residents sign up for coverage — she would enroll by mail after multiple failures trying to create a password. Her daughter, Vanessa, wasn’t able to enroll on the neighboring computer.
The 26-year-old Vanessa said she has browsed the plans online at home but has been wary of buying because she said the tax credit rate changes each time she tries.
“We’ve been here since before (the library) opened. It’s not letting us do it,” Vanessa Salazar said. Her mother, meanwhile, was lukewarm about having to enroll to avoid a penalty.
“I’m right down the middle. I’m annoyed,” she said. “I’m confused.”
But state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, struck a more cheerful tone, saying of the new numbers: “You can’t help but be optimistic.”
A new CBS News poll released Tuesday night, shows that views about the health care law have recovered slightly from last month’s lows but are still dim.
On a conference call Wednesday with reporters and White House personnel touting how important the law can be for Hispanics, Martinez Fischer noted that 22 Texas counties comprise the top 30 nationally that stand to see the most dramatic increases in rate of health insurance coverage.
“The terrain in Texas on everything is extremely uphill,” the San Antonio Democrat said, referring to Perry and the Legislature’s fierce opposition to the law. “To know that there are people who, despite those odds, are still enrolling is encouraging.”
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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