Yuma saw nation’s biggest surge as Obamacare enrollment wound down

Advocates in Yuma said they coordinated efforts to reach out and bring information on Obamacare to parts of the community, and helped people navigate the paperwork. It paid off in the largest last-minute enrollment surge in the nation. (Photo by Alex Proimos via flickr/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Yuma residents posted the highest enrollment gains in the country as open enrollment for Obamacare ended, surging 21 percent in the last week alone, government officials said Thursday.

In a conference call with reporters, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said 12.7 million people nationwide had signed up for health insurance by Feb. 1, which “exceeds our expectations.”

In Arizona, 203,066 people selected health care plans during the Obamacare open enrollment period that ran from Nov. 1 to Feb. 1. Of those, 4,467 were in Yuma, according to HHS, while Phoenix and Tucson had 144,196 and 34,382 people sign up, respectively.

Sprint to the finish

The 10 markets that showed the biggest growth in health care signups last week, the final week of open enrollment for this round of Obamacare:

  • Yuma: 21 percent
  • Corpus Christi, Texas: 17 percent
  • Harlingen, Texas: 16 percent
  • Laredo, Texas: 16 percent
  • El Paso, Texas 14 percent
  • Odessa-Midland, Texas: 14 percent
  • San Antonio, Texas: 14 percent
  • Abilene-Sweetwater, Texas: 13 percent
  • Las Vegas: 13 percent
  • Lubbock, Texas: 12 percent
  • Yuma topped the list of the 10 most-active markets in the waning days of open enrollment, followed by Las Vegas and eight cities in Texas, all of which saw last-minute surge percentages in the teens, said Health Insurance Marketplace CEO Kevin Counihan on Thursday’s conference call.

    Counihan said the growth was not by accident, instead attributing it to outreach and education efforts. Montserrat Caballero, the Arizona state director for Enroll America, agreed.

    “It’s a product of hard work,” she said. “It’s all about coordinating with the people who do enrollment on the ground and talking to partners, getting the word out, being at events, participating with schools, trying to get in the media.”

    In Yuma, local groups including Sunset Community Health Center, the Regional Center for Board Health, and the Yuma Regional Medical Center worked together to reach regions of the county each knew best, said Machele Headington, a spokeswoman with the medical center.

    “As a community, we started really collaborating probably at the very, very onset as the country started preparing for marketplace enrollment,” Headington said.

    She said enrollment teams went to community events to educate people on healthcare, and then set up one-on-one appointments – sometimes after 5 p.m. and on the weekends – to help people with their applications, which can be intimidating even for those who have bought health care before. She said at least 50 people had appointments in the last few weeks.

    Headington said people typically wait until the last minute to buy health insurance, especially because a check is involved.

    “It’s like shopping for a car, you’ve got to look at all of them before you find the right one,” she said.

    She said it helped that the government’s health care website has become easier to use since earlier enrollment periods.

    On the state level there was a push to re-enroll consumers as well as sign up young people, Caballero said. She said the nation has seen increasing numbers of young people enrolling, meaning coverage isn’t just for one age group.

    “We are seeing exactly what you want to see,” Caballero said.

    Burwell said that 4 million of the total 12.7 million enrolled were new health care consumers in HealthCare.gov states, which includes Arizona.

    For the future, Caballero said the focus will be on insurance literacy so people understand terminology, their benefits and their access to preventative health care.

    This is the third enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act. Counihan, who’s worked in insurance marketplaces for more than 10 years, said the first year is always about implementation, the second year focuses on system stability and the third centers on outreach, which is what he sees happening with Obamacare.

    “It’s still a relatively new law,” Caballero said. “We did really well. Every year it gets smoother and coordination happens.”