ObamaCare signups surge in southern states

Signups for ObamaCare are surging in southern states, with increases of nearly 100 percent in some states compared to last year, federal health officials said Wednesday.

Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi have each seen 80 percent more signups compared to last year, Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt said.

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The same states are also reporting the fastest rate of growth in the final two weeks of the current enrollment period, which ends Feb. 15. Each of the states has reported 5 percent more signups over the last two weeks compared to last year.

The trend is particularly significant given that the Republican governors in each of the states have made little or no effort to promote signups, leaving the outreach to state and national healthcare advocacy groups. State leaders, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have been some of the law's harshest critics.

“Real simply, I think word is spreading. I think word of mouth is spreading really positively as neighbors tell neighbors how easy it's been to get coverage this year,” Slavitt told reporters in a briefing Wednesday.

The new figures offer the first glimpse of final state-by-state figures from 2014 as well as the early state estimates for 2015. Slavitt warned that the current year’s numbers could still change if new customers do not officially make payments.

More than 1 million people have signed up for plans in Texas, with about 180,000 in South Carolina, 150,000 in Louisiana and 90,000 in Mississippi.

HHS also announced Wednesday that 7.75 million people have signed up for ObamaCare using the federal exchange so far this year. Slavitt added that “millions more” have signed up through state exchanges, though he did not have specific numbers.

That puts the Obama administration in a strong place ahead of its Feb. 15 enrollment deadline. Federal health officials said last fall that they aimed for a total of 9 million signups – both new and existing customers – by 2015, which is several million less than its earlier target.

With only four days remaining to buy ObamaCare this year, traffic on HealthCare.gov has jumped 58 percent over the last week and phone calls have increased 37 percent, Slavitt said.

“We are continuing to see momentum build and traffic ramp,” he added. “We’re seeing a really nice ramp.”

The Obama administration has stepped up its outreach on HealthCare.gov ahead of the Feb. 15 deadline, with hundreds of sign-up events throughout the weekend.

“We’re strongly encouraging people to not do what I do, which is wait until the last minute,” Kevin Counihan, CEO of the marketplace, said.

"February 15. That's our big day," Slavitt added.