Over 540K ObamaCare sign-ups in first week

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More than 540,000 people selected a health insurance plan through the federal ObamaCare marketplace in the first week of this year's sign-up period, the Obama administration announced Thursday. 

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“It’s a solid start and I’m pleased with the consumer engagement we’ve seen over this last week,” Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell wrote in a blog post. 

The total of 543,098 does not reflect more sign-ups that have occurred in the dozen states not using the federal enrollment system. 

This year’s total is more than the roughly 462,000 people who selected a plan in the first week of last year's open enrollment, though Burwell cautioned against direct comparisons because there is more time until the deadline this time. Many people wait until the deadline nears to enroll.  

Thirty-four percent of the enrollees were new customers, and 66 percent were renewing their coverage, HHS said. 

The Obama administration has acknowledged that this year’s enrollment period will be tougher than the first two because the people who were easiest to reach have already signed up. 

The administration’s goal of having 10 million enrollees by the end of next year is modest, given that around 9.1 million people are enrolled this year. 

HHS says that this target would reflect "strong" growth because it would mean signing up more than one in four of the remaining uninsured who are eligible.

By the end of the open enrollment period on Jan. 31, the administration projects that between 11 million and 14.1 million people will have selected a plan. But as some don’t pay their premiums or shift to other types of coverage, that number is expected to drop closer to 10 million by the end of the year. 

The administration has also emphasized the tax credits available to people under the healthcare law to make coverage more affordable as more attention has fallen on premium increases.  A McKinsey & Company study finds that premiums for the popular silver-level plans are increasing an average of 11 percent this year. 

After tax credits, though, the administration says more than 7 in 10 enrollees will be able to find a plan for less than $75 a month.

This story was updated at 3:50 p.m.