More than 11.3 million people have signed up for ObamaCare coverage so far, reaching the lower end of the administration’s projections with almost a month still remaining to sign up.
In October, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that between 11 million and 14.1 million people would sign up. The sign-up period ends Jan. 31, and there is usually a surge of enrollment right before the deadline.
The number also means that sign-ups have almost reached last year’s final level of 11.7 million.
The sign-up numbers are a positive sign for the law after the October enrollment estimates were largely seen as modest and the administration had to fend off the idea that enrollment had reached a plateau. Some experts say the estimates were too low to begin with. Officials acknowledged at the time that there would be a longer path to signing up the remaining uninsured, who tend to be harder to reach.
“We’re seeing unprecedented demand for Marketplace coverage with more than 11.3 million people signed up for coverage,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a statement Thursday.
Officials also touted a higher percentage of young enrollees, which is important for keeping premiums in check. Over 41 percent of new consumers were under age 35, compared to about 38 percent at this point last year.
The administration also pointed out that more than half of returning customers came back to actively select a plan for next year, as opposed to automatically being re-enrolled, which is a way to shop around for the best deal and help counteract rising premiums.
Some insurers have expressed concerns with the mix of healthy and sick people signing up. United Healthcare made waves in November when it announced that it might leave the ObamaCare marketplaces in 2017 because it is losing money. Other insurers followed that announcement by making clear their commitment to the ObamaCare marketplaces.
Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), emphasized Thursday that the growing enrollment and percentage of young people make for an “attractive market for health plans.”
Part of the reason for the higher numbers of young people is that the penalty for lacking insurance is increasing significantly, to $695 or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater.
“Awareness is increasing of the fact that if you decide not to get covered, you're at risk of paying a penalty,” Slavitt said.