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Obamacare’s biggest state foe, Florida, is also its biggest success

WASHINGTON – Florida led the nation in opposing the Affordable Care Act, filing the first lawsuit – one that ultimately landed on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now Florida leads in a surprisingly different direction: It has outpaced every other state in Obamacare enrollment in the federal marketplace.

After a slow start, Florida has led the crowd three straight months. About 442,000 Floridians enrolled by the February count, released this month. With that number, Florida outranks all states but California, which ran its own marketplace and has nearly 869,000 enrollees.

By way of comparison, Texas had 295,000 enrollees. It’s another big state with a political climate unfriendly to the law and has 8.8 million more residents than Florida.

Texas has the nation’s highest proportion of uninsured residents. One in four of its residents has no health insurance, compared with about one in five uninsured residents in Florida.

New York, which almost ties Florida in population, with 19.6 million residents, enrolled 245,000 residents. That’s a little more than half of Florida’s total.

Florida advocates credit their success to several factors, including an organized grass-roots enrollment effort.

‘’We are proud to have helped make Florida a consistent leader among the nation in bringing affordable, accessible health coverage to our community,” said Nicholas Duran, Florida director of Get Covered America.

“We’ve doubled-down our outreach efforts in the last weeks, and with less than (two weeks) of open enrollment left, we’re excited to continue this statewide trend,” he said.

The enrollment success is all the more surprising because the health-care law is not particularly popular in Florida.

A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll of likely voters in October found that 51 percent oppose the Affordable Care Act. Political pundits widely credited an electorate hostile to the far-reaching health care law for the recent defeat of former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink in her bid to become a member of Congress.

Before advocates could begin enrolling, they had to overcome an information gap that was an even bigger hurdle than dislike of the law.

Gov. Rick Scott famously told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, after the Supreme Court upheld the law: “We’re not going to implement Obamacare in Florida.”

And as far as state leaders were concerned, that’s pretty much what happened.

Unlike places such as Oregon and California, which spent millions on advertising alone, Florida politicians made a conscious effort not to assist enrollment efforts.

That left a vacuum that advocates had to fill.

Groups like Enroll America went door to door, often finding Floridians who didn’t know about the marketplace, an online space where they could buy insurance and perhaps get federal government assistance for it.

‘’The issue of the Affordable Care Act has somewhat been wrapped up in politics, but what you find, and the most fascinating thing is, when you’re actually talking to someone about their personal health care options, that flies out the door. You have real conversations with people who are really trying to figure this out,” explained Ray Paultre, Enroll America’s Florida organizing director. “People are generally receptive.”