NAPLES — Guy Almeling felt like doing somersaults when he realized his insurance premium will drop more than $800 a month next year under the Affordable Care Act.
“I am rejoicing,” said Almeling, a self-employed financial consultant in Fort Myers.
He has been paying $1,750 a month for his single coverage as a 64-year-old. Next year, he will pay $902 a month with a plan offered by Florida Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Federal officials say nearly 14,500 Floridians had signed up for coverage as of late November. Florida is outpacing other states even though people enrolling do so through the federal marketplace website, which was besieged with technical glitches until last month.
Florida’s enrollment so far is less than 1 percent of the eligible uninsured population in the state, Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said Tuesday during a media call. That’s similar to what Texas is experiencing, she said.
Both states have high numbers of uninsured people.
Nationwide, 364,000 people have signed up for plans and December is seeing a surge as the first month where most website glitches have been fixed, she said.
“We do expect a clearer picture of enrollment in January,” she said.
About three-quarters of the people signed up are in marketplace plans, while the rest are eligible for Medicaid, where they live in a state that is expanding Medicaid enrollment, she said. Florida is among 20 states that isn’t expanding Medicaid.
For people going into marketplace plans, 40 percent are eligible for subsidies to help with their premiums, she said.
Subsidies are available for people whose incomes are up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — multiplying out to $45,960 for an individual or $94,000 for a family of four.
Larry Levitt, a senior vice president with Kaiser, said one concern is whether healthier young people will sign up for coverage to offset costs that insurers will face with older and sicker people gaining coverage.
So far, enrollment among ages 18 to 34 is falling short of the target threshold that they be 40 percent of a risk pool, Levitt said. Still, he said, that’s not cause for alarm at this point of open enrollment.
“Older and sicker people would be the first in the door (to enroll) and healthier and younger people will enroll later,” he said. “These numbers suggest we won’t hit the 40 percent target but I would not put too much faith in the early numbers.”
The Congressional Budget Office projects that seven million people need to be signed up during the first year to make the program workable.
“I don’t think that needs to happen in the first year,” he said, pointing to the federal children’s health insurance plan, CHIP, which had a million enrolled in its first year but quadrupled its numbers in later years.
Jodi Ray, a “navigator” with the University of South Florida in Tampa who was enlisted to help Floridians sign up, said Tuesday only the federal government can release enrollment numbers for the region or state.
So far, she said, people are drawn to “silver” plans, where the insurance covers 70 percent of costs and the individual is responsible for 30 percent.
Open enrollment ends Dec. 23 for coverage beginning Jan. 1. People can still sign up until March 31 for coverage to begin a few weeks later, said Lynne Thorp, the lead “navigator” in Southwest Florida to help local residents.
She is seeing younger people interested in coverage and signing up, contrary to expectations that some young people will opt to pay a penalty, which starts at $95 in 2014 for an individual earning less than $20,000 and goes to 1 percent of income above that threshold.
“I have enrolled quite a few young people in their 30s but none in their 20s,” she said.
Almeling, the financial consultant in Fort Myers, doesn’t qualify for a premium subsidy because he earns too much money. But he’s saving hundreds of dollars each month by switching from his current plan with a $5,000 deductible to a health maintenance plan with no deductible and maximum co-payment of $2,000 a year. Next spring, he will turn 65 and will switch to Medicare.
“I only wish (health reform) had been done years ago,” he said.