With late surge, ObamaCare sign-ups reach 6 million

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The Obama administration announced Friday that 6 million people have signed up for ObamaCare health coverage — calling the total a sign of a surge in growth in this year’s sign-up period. 

The 6 million people who signed up for coverage is much higher than the 3.4 million people who had signed up at this point in last year’s enrollment period. 

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Furthermore, 2.4 million of the 6 million people are new enrollees, as opposed to people renewing their coverage, which is about a third more than the number of new enrollees at this point last year. 

Officials are casting the numbers as a sign of healthy growth in the law. 

“The growth we’re experiencing is incredibly encouraging,” Kevin Counihan, CEO of the ObamaCare marketplaces, said in a call with reporters. 

The numbers are somewhat unexpected, given that the administration had a modest projection for sign-ups next year, expecting growth from around 9.1 million to 10 million. 

Friday’s numbers are for people who signed up through the preliminary deadline of Dec. 15, which was the deadline to have coverage begin on Jan. 1. 

The new sign-up numbers only cover the 38 states that use the federal HealthCare.gov site. There are more sign-ups in the 12 states that use their own systems, which have yet to be counted.

The final sign-up numbers will not be known until after the final deadline of Jan. 31, and officials said Friday that it is too early to think about revising the projection for 10 million enrollments. 

Still, Counihan indicated that the numbers could help counter concerns about rising premiums, because more sign-ups helps ensure that there is the right mix of healthy and sick people, known as the risk pool.

“We're growing and refreshing the risk pool,” Counihan said. 

Republicans have latched onto higher premiums this year. A study from the consulting firm Avalere found that premiums for the most popular plan, the lowest-cost “silver” level option, were increasing 13 percent this year. 

However, Obama administration officials emphasized that financial help is available to make costs affordable and that people can save money by switching plans. 

Officials said this could be a year of significant growth in the law’s enrollment. 

“It's clear now that many people have been waiting to purchase coverage until this enrollment cycle,” said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt. 

Officials pointed to a range of factors for the higher sign-up numbers, including an emphasis on affordability and financial assistance as well as a faster and improved website. 

Counihan said the higher penalty for lacking insurance this year, up to $695 or 2.5 percent of income, is also appearing to play a role in driving sign-ups, though he did not yet know how much of a role. 

Officials had extended the Dec. 15 deadline until Dec. 17 because of a surge in late sign-ups that meant some people had to leave their contact information and sign up later. 

Dec. 15 was the busiest day ever for ObamaCare sign-ups, with 600,000 people signing up in 24 hours. 

On Tuesday, when the administration extended the deadline, it said 1 million people had to leave their contact information and sign up later. Officials said Friday that they did not know how many people who were in line have in fact come back and signed up. 

Despite the surge in sign-ups, officials emphasized they still have a ways to go before the final deadline on Jan. 31. 

“No one is running any victory laps,” Counihan said.