The Obama administration on Thursday announced a goal of having 10 million people signed up for ObamaCare coverage next year, fewer than a million more than are enrolled this year.
Hitting the goal would be an increase of just 900,000 people from the 9.1 million people that the administration expects will be enrolled at the end of this year.
The goal of 10 million sign-ups is far below a Congressional Budget Office projection in June that 20 million people would be signed up in 2016.
The administration says that projection assumed that people would drop employer-sponsored coverage and shift to the ObamaCare marketplace, but that shift has not occurred.
The slowing projected rate of sign-ups has raised questions about how many more enrollees are coming in future years.
“We’re not seeing evidence of having plateaued,” said Richard Frank, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) assistant secretary of planning and evaluation, on a conference call with reporters.
But he said “we are seeing a much longer path” to signing up the rest of the uninsured.
The administration has said the coming enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1, will be more challenging than those of the last two years. Many of the uninsured people who were easiest to reach or most eager to sign up have already enrolled.
HHS is targeting the 10.5 million people that it projects are uninsured and eligible for coverage through the health law’s marketplaces.
The goal is for more than one in four of the 10.5 million uninsured and eligible individuals to sign up in the coming enrollment period.
Frank used that figure to fend off the notion that the administration is projecting only a small increase in sign-ups.
“Twenty-five to 30 percent of a group that is increasingly hard to reach that is shrinking, doesn’t seem to me like a small contribution,” he said.
The administration says it has honed its outreach techniques.
“While our audiences may be harder to reach, we’re working smarter to reach them,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
It is planning more localized campaigns, using advertising to drive people to in-person assistance, and working on sending people enrollment reminders at the right time, which HHS said has proven effective.
The push is also focusing on certain urban areas where there are high levels of uninsured people.
The penalty for not having insurance is also increasing next year, to the greater of $695 or 2.5 percent of income. That penalty could help drive more people to get covered.
“We need to make sure that we are very clear and explicit about that $695 penalty so people understand the choice they’re making,” said Lori Lodes, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The administration projects 11 million to 14 million people to initially sign up for coverage, but says some of those will drop out as they gain coverage elsewhere or don’t pay their premiums.
Overall, the administration said last month that 17.6 million people have gained coverage through the law’s marketplaces, Medicaid expansion, or by staying on their parents’ plans until age 26.
—This report was last updated at 12:03 p.m.