ObamaCare sign-ups pass 8 million, outpacing last year's total


Almost 8.3 million people have enrolled in ObamaCare plans, putting the administration well ahead of last year’s total at the same point in the sign-up season.

Federal health officials announced the latest figures on Tuesday, touting stronger-than-expected demand in December as healthcare customers race to find or switch plans ahead of the deadline to sign up for coverage beginning 2016.

The quicker pace likely indicates people are seeking to avoid the higher cost of being uninsured in 2016. People without insurance by tax season will face far steeper penalties, almost double the fee from the previous year. 

Of the 8.3 million sign-ups, about 2.4 million are new to the marketplace — a figure that is one-third higher than last year’s new total at the same distance from the deadline.

Significantly, this year’s sign-ups include 2.1 million people under age 35 — nearly double the number of young people enrolled during the same period last year.  

“We’re excited in terms of what it means for health security and financial security. We’re excited about the fact that it does mean a younger risk pool, which is generally stronger,” Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced on a conference call with supporters Tuesday.

The growing diversity of the marketplace will be welcome news to health insurance companies, many of which remain worried that customers are older, and therefore costlier to cover, than they had originally expected.    

This year's enrollment deadline was originally slated to be Dec. 15, but it was extended by two days to accommodate heavy traffic on the federal website HealthCare.gov as well as the call centers.

About 4 million people signed up for insurance plans through the federal marketplace in the last week alone, according to data released Tuesday. The data offers the most comprehensive glance at sign-ups in the third year of enrollment since the deadline on Dec. 17.

That data also includes the number of existing customers who were auto-enrolled in plans — meaning they opted out of shopping around for better or cheaper plans on the marketplace. It is the first time the data has been released this enrollment season, though officials have not yet released a breakdown of those numbers.

Still, there are some caveats in this year’s figures. The federal marketplace figures include 28 states, but not those running their own exchanges like California or New York, and are running about two weeks ahead of last year’s timeframe. The figures also include one additional state, Hawaii, which ditched its exchange last year.

Burwell has repeatedly said that customers may need to switch — or at least browse — plans each year if they want to have the best deal because there will be new selections each year.

Burwell has said she expects a total of 9.9 million people to pay into their plans this year, less than 1 million more than last year's total.