AUSTIN, Texas (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 Oct. 1 and Nov. 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 total had enrolled in the 36 states served by the federal website - that was up from nearly 27,000 in October. Enrolment 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.
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said Wednesday that 22 Texas counties comprise the top 30 nationally that stand to see the most dramatic increases in rate of health insurance coverage.
On a conference call with reporters and White House personnel touting how important the law can be for Hispanics, Martinez Fischer said of the new numbers: "You can't help but be optimistic."
"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."
Martinez Fisher also added, however: "We still have more work to do."
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