Feds in final ObamaCare push

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The Obama administration is making a final push to boost ObamaCare enrollment ahead of Sunday's deadline to enroll. 

The effort comes at the end of the health law’s third year of sign-ups, which officials said from the start would be the hardest yet because the people most eager to sign up already have. 

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The administration is trying to boost sign-ups among young people, who tend to have lower healthcare costs and are important to health insurers, many of which have been losing money on the law’s marketplaces so far. 

Observers will also be on the lookout for whether the overall sign-up number can beat the administration’s target, which was widely viewed as modest. 

Officials are fanning out to areas with high numbers of uninsured people in the final days. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia BurwellSylvia Mathews BurwellHHS launches contest to make bills simpler Obama administration takes step to reform Medicare payments Rubio breaks with GOP, backs Obama Zika request MORE is traveling to Texas and Florida, and marketplace CEO Kevin Counihan to Oklahoma. President Obama did a round of local television interviews from the White House. 

Administration officials did more than two dozen radio and television interviews on Wednesday alone. 

Outreach efforts are putting more of an emphasis on the fine people would be required to pay if they do not have health insurance. It increases to at least $695 this year. 

Since the beginning of the year, healthcare.gov television and radio ads have been updated. While they mostly emphasize the tax credits available to make insurance more affordable, they also now state: “Avoid the penalty: $695 or more.”

Polling suggests that the increased emphasis on the penalty is helping to motivate more young people to enroll. 

The administration has touted that ahead of the preliminary deadline of Dec. 15, the percentage of young people ticked up to 35 percent of enrollees, compared to 33 percent at the same point the last time around. Officials are hoping that there will be a further surge of procrastinating young people ahead of Sunday’s deadline. 

There was a 50 percent increase in healthcare.gov traffic on Thursday compared to the week before, as the pre-deadline activity picks up. 

Still, ObamaCare numbers expert Charles Gaba has revised down his estimate of the final sign-up total, to between 12.4 and 12.9 million people, after lower sign-up numbers came in earlier this month. 

That estimate is similar to the middle of the official HHS target range, at 12.6 million people. 

For comparison, 11.7 million people signed up by the end of the last enrollment period (though there have some been changes in the counting methodology since then.) The administration has acknowledged that there will be a “longer path” to signing up the remaining 10.5 million uninsured people that it estimates are eligible for marketplace coverage. 

Asked Thursday about polling data showing that most uninsured people lacked information about signing up under the health law, with just 15 percent knowing that Jan. 31 is the deadline, ObamaCare Marketplace CEO Kevin Counihan said the numbers were “not a big surprise to anybody.” 

“We’ve all recognized that this is a multi-year implementation,” he said, given that the remaining uninsured are the “high-hanging fruit.”

Still, Counihan said he is “pleased” with the numbers so far. The administration points to 14 states that had over 20 percent more signups than the same period last time, and there were strong sign-up numbers ahead of the preliminary Dec. 15 deadline. 

Officials are hoping for a similar surge ahead of Sunday. Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the Sunday deadline would not be extended, though people in line at the deadline would be given a chance to enroll. 

“If you want coverage, now is the time to do it,” he said.