Three million sign up for Obamacare

Three million people have signed up for private insurance coverage through the health-care law’s marketplaces, the Obama administration announced Friday. That lags behind its initial projections for overall enrollment — but it’s closer to hitting the monthly sign-up expectations the administration set in September.

In a blog post, the Department of Health and Human Services said that at least 800,000 people had signed up for coverage during the first three weeks of January. In September, the Obama administration had projected that the insurance exchanges would add 1.1 million enrollees this month, a target that could be in reach with one week left in January for people to sign up.

“As our outreach efforts kick into even higher gear, we anticipate these numbers will continue to grow, particularly as we reach even more uninsured young adults so that they know that new options and new ways to help eligible individuals pay for their premium are now available, thanks to the Affordable Care Act,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Marilyn Tavenner wrote in the Friday blog post.

Since the federal government implemented significant fixes to HealthCare.gov on Dec. 1, monthly enrollment totals have inched significantly closer to the targets. Instead of netting a quarter or a third of the expected sign-ups, as the administration did in October and November, now the numbers are coming in much more in range of expectations.

Generally, health policy experts had expected that enrollment in January would be lower than December sign-ups. That’s because December was a month with a key deadline: Shoppers had to pick a plan by Dec. 23 in order to be covered in January, the start of the insurance expansion.

For those who were transitioning into the exchanges from the individual market and didn’t want a gap in coverage — or those with costly pre-existing conditions eager to gain coverage — there were a lot of reasons to get signed up at the first possible moment.

Now that pressure has lifted a bit, and shoppers have through the end of March to purchase a policy. That probably means there will be another uptick in enrollment this spring, as potential enrollees get closer to the March 31 end of open enrollment.

The Obama administration has not yet released data on how many health insurance enrollees have paid their first month’s premium. One major health insurer, Aetna, had said that more than 70 percent of those signed up had paid for policies as of mid-January.

In Washington state, one of the few exchanges that does collect premium payments, slightly fewer than half of shoppers who selected a plan have sent a premium payment to that insurer: 67,200 paid customers versus 72,636 still awaiting payment.

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