By Sarah Ferris - 12/09/15 01:21 PM EST
ObamaCare officials are on a path to beat this year's enrollment goal just about halfway through the current sign-up season.
More than 1 million new customers — and 2.8 million people overall — have signed up for ObamaCare in the first six weeks of the new enrollment period, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released Wednesday.
While not all of the people who signed up will ultimately pay their premiums and become enrolled, it’s a strong sign that the administration will reach, if not outpace, its goal of adding 900,000 new customers to the marketplace this year.
“I’m a pretty conservative guy, and I’m encouraged by the start we’ve had,” CMS acting administrator Andy Slavitt said of the first half of this year's enrollment season, which ends Jan. 31.
“We’re extremely pleased with how we’re tracking so far,” added HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan.
Obama administration officials were notably optimistic in a call with reporters Wednesday, hinting that the penalty for not having insurance — which kicked in last year — is making a dent. About 8 million people paid a penalty for not having insurance last year, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
“It’s clear that people have been waiting all year for the marketplace to begin,” Slavitt said. “People are ready to get covered.”
Slavitt pointed to the surge in interest ahead of the Dec. 15 deadline for those seeking coverage before Jan. 1, which allows people to avoid the steep tax penalty during next year's tax filing season.
This fall's sign-ups are even outpacing last year’s. Over the last three weeks, total sign-ups have exceeded those for the same period last year, Slavitt said.
The Obama administration has faced criticism for its lower-than-expected enrollment goal this year. Many in the industry have said the 10 million figure is low-balled, and it has prompted insurers such as UnitedHealthCare to publicly voice concerns about the marketplaces.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, along with Slavitt and Counihan, has maintained that the marketplaces remain viable but said boosting the enrollment figures will be difficult because it's more difficult to reach the remaining uninsured.
ObamaCare’s call center is also seeing heavier demand this year than it did over the same period last year.
The call center fielded 1 million calls over the last week — more than one-quarter of its total volume since Nov. 1. The average wait time for the call center jumped to 12 minutes, double the average wait time overall.
“We’re not running any victory runs yet. We’ve got a long way to go,” Counihan said.