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Despite Political Resistance, Florida A Leader In ACA Sign-Ups


Republican leaders in the House have scheduled a vote for this week on the Affordable Care Act. It will be the 56th attempt to repeal at least part of the law. In Florida, GOP lawmakers have also actively fought Obamacare. And yet, as NPR's Greg Allen reports, it's among the top states in the nation in enrollment.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: At Miami's Mall of the Americas, a cavernous storefront that used to be a clothing outlet store is now filled with tables, chairs and a hundred agents selling health coverage.

ODALYS AREVALO: Let me ask you a few questions to pre-qualify you really quickly. Are you married or single?

ALLEN: Odalys Arevalo runs Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, an insurance company that has grown quickly because of its focus on one product - what the store's signs, in Spanish and English, call Obamacare. With the February 15 enrollment deadline fast approaching, even Arevalo finds herself taking calls.

AREVALO: Yeah, then you qualify. You can come on in any day. You know, we start at seven in the morning.

ALLEN: Arevalo says she and a partner started the company two years ago. They opened a kiosk at the mall, but found little interest. But once enrollment started and word began to circulate in Miami's Hispanic community, Arevalo says things took off.

AREVALO: And now we've got this 24,000 square feet location. We've got 600 agents.

ALLEN: Sunshine Life and Health now has eight locations, most in malls like this one, and they're busy. The nation's top 10 zip codes where people signed up for Obamacare this year are all in areas the company serves in South Florida. Arevalo says the enrollment surge has been driven by the Hispanic community.

AREVALO: They, you know, know that this is a way to get affordable care and the right income. You know, this is really the target area, you know, for people that qualify for the law.

ALLEN: In heavily Hispanic Hialeah, Miami and other South Florida cities, now nail salons, barbershops, even hardware stores have someone doing Obamacare enrollments. As for politics and resistance from people opposed to the president and the health care program...

AREVALO: That's changed completely. Here, there you still get someone - oh, I hate Obama. But people have really seen, you know, that it's helped a lot of families.

ALLEN: Statewide, more than 1.2 million Floridians have signed up this year for coverage. But while enrollments continue to grow in Miami, Tampa and other Florida cities, in the state capital, Tallahassee, there's still a pronounced lack of enthusiasm for the Affordable Care Act. Florida sued unsuccessfully to block it from taking effect. Since then, the state's Republican governor and legislative leaders have resisted calls to accept some $50 billion in federal money over 10 years to expand Florida's Medicaid program. Florida House Speaker Steve Chrisafulli says he doesn't expect that to change in the upcoming legislative session.

STEVE CHRISAFULLI: But with regard to the issue itself, with Medicaid expansion, currently the posture of the House is not to do anything further.

RENE GARCIA: I think the expectation should be a bit different.

ALLEN: Rene Garcia is a Republican who represents Hialeah in the Florida Senate. Last year, he introduced a bill to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act - a bill that was blocked in the state House. Since then, he notes, many other states led by Republicans - Ohio, Arizona and most recently Indiana - have accepted the federal dollars and expanded Medicaid to cover their uninsured residents.

GARCIA: You see that this is no longer a Republican or Democrat or blue versus red state or states against Washington, D.C.

ALLEN: In Florida, there's another factor raising the stakes for Medicaid expansion. Another federal program, one that distributes more than $2 billion a year to hospitals that provide care to low-income residents, is set to expire on June 30. Expanding Medicaid would help replace those funds. It's a financial incentive that's led business groups and even opponents of Obamacare to push Florida to expand Medicaid. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.