ObamaCare sign-ups hit 6.4 million

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A total of 6.4 million people bought healthcare from the federal government in the first month of open enrollment, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Tuesday.

About 1.9 million people gained coverage for the first time, making up just under one-third of all signups, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a briefing.

The robust enrollment tally – which does not include California, New York and a dozen other states that run their own exchanges – puts the administration on track to outpace its goal of 9.1 million signups by February.

State marketplaces have independently reported just over 1 million sign-ups outside of the federal marketplace, and will be included in the government’s official count next month.

The newest enrollment tally offers the first glimpse of people who were automatically enrolled in plans if they chose not to return to the marketplace.

Just under two-thirds of people were auto-enrolled, Burwell said, which she added was higher than she expected because “most people just let what happens go.”

Those who opted for auto-enrollment are more likely to see rate hikes.

The federal government has warned for weeks that ObamaCare customers should log back into the marketplace during the second year of enrollment to find cheaper plans. Most customers received between three and 10 reminder letters or phone calls.  

"We emphasized very strongly and tried to communicate with people about coming in,” Burwell said Tuesday.

The figures also showed a massive surge in signups in the week ahead of the Dec. 12 deadline to buy coverage that will go into effect before Jan. 1.

The Obama administration had run a full-court press in the week ahead of the deadline, partnering with shopping malls on Black Friday, running promotions with 7-Eleven and blitzing paid ads in every state on cable networks including Comedy Central and MTV.

The first month of enrollment is a stark difference from last fall, when a dysfunctional HealthCare.gov website prevented most users from logging in. This year, more than 14 million people have logged on and nearly 8 million applications have been submitted.

The Obama administration now has about two months left to boost sign-ups by about 2 million users – a goal that healthcare consultants expect the government to easily meet.

“Something very unexpected would have to happen to not meet the 9.1 million target,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, said in an interview earlier this month.

Officials had previously dialed back their expectations from 13 million sign-ups to 9.1 million, raising questions among healthcare policy experts who believed the bar was intentionally lowered. One independent analysis predicted about 10.5 million signups this year.

This story was updated at 12:19 p.m.