With less than three weeks left in open enrollment, 442,000 Floridians have enrolled in a health plan through the federal insurance marketplace, health officials reported Tuesday.
And 83 percent of those who have enrolled in Florida received financial help in the form of tax credits, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The surge - up by 49 percent since early February - means that Florida accounts for more than 10 percent of all those who have enrolled nationwide in either state or federal exchanges since Oct. 1. The total so far nationwide is 4.2 million, of which 2.6 million enrolled through the federal site, Healthcare.gov.
Some states run their own exchanges, but Florida is not among them.
The HHS report noted that officials expect a surge of customers in the final weeks of open enrollment for this year, which closes March 31. Those who don't already have coverage through their employer, the government or some other means are required to buy it or pay a penalty at tax time next year (see how to calculate penalty).
A few groups are excused from the mandate, including those who have incomes below the federal poverty level. In Florida, which opted out of the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage to those below the poverty line, nearly 1 million people will be turned away if they try to enroll.
The individual mandate has been one of the most controversial aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Architects of the law said it was necessary to require that people buy plans while they're healthy, or otherwise they would wait until they needed health care to buy it. That would leave health plans burdened with sick people who are expensive and they would become unaffordable, actuaries say.
Those who still need to get a plan can enroll on their own at Healthcare.gov, or can get help several ways: by calling (800) 318-2596, consulting an insurance agent, or finding a navigator or enrollment counselor. One way to do that is go to this site and type in your zip code.
Navigators are bracing for a last-minute rush, especially among young, healthy people who may be least eager to part with the money for premiums. To attract the younger crowd, HHS is running a video of Pensacola metal sculptor James Jackson, 30, talking about the importance of being covered. Health News Florida reported on Jackson's sudden fame in January.