HealthCare.gov breaks 1M as Obamacare sign-ups surge

Obamacare customers shook off their Thanksgiving food comas last week and began signing up at a much quicker pace on HealthCare.gov, which has now sold 1.38 million insurance plans.

The upsurge in enrollment comes in advance of next Monday's deadline to sign up for health insurance that goes into effect by Jan. 1, 2015.

That federal Obamacare marketplace had 618,548 people pick an insurance plan from Nov. 29 through last Friday, the third week of the ongoing open enrollment season, according to data released Wednesday by federal officials.

That's slightly more than double the number of sign-ups seen on HealthCare.gov the week before, which included the Thanksgiving holiday, and which had a dip in sign-ups from the first week.

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Counselors help clients navigate the second round of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act in Manassas, VA on November 15, 2014.
Linda Davidson | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Counselors help clients navigate the second round of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act in Manassas, VA on November 15, 2014.

The total number of customers who selected by Dec. 5 was 1,383,683 plans. They were split nearly evenly between people renewing health coverage, or 52 percent, and the remaining 48 percent being new customers. For the enrollments to take effect, people must pay their first month's premiums.

HealthCare.gov serves 37 states. The data released Wednesday does not include enrollments from the 14 exchanges run by individual states and the District of Columbia.

The number of applications on HealthCare.gov also surged in the third week, growing to 974,018 applications submitted, up from 520,427 the week before.

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The site's telephone call center handled over 982,000 calls, more than double the 484,867 made in the prior week.

"Open enrollment's momentum is building, and I've seen that firsthand as I traveled the country and talked to people, from Florida to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Texas," said Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. "With less than a week left to sign up for coverage that starts Jan. 1, we're encouraging new and returning consumers to visit HealthCare.gov, call the call center, or get in touch with a local assister by Dec. 15."

This Obamacare open enrollment season, the second so far, runs through Feb. 15. Most Americans are required under the Affordable Care Act to have some form of health insurance coverage by that day or be subject to a tax penalty equal to up to 2 percent of their adjusted gross income next year.

Just before open enrollment began, there were about 6.7 million people enrolled in Obamacare plans nationally. Burwell has said she expects there to be about 9.1 million Obamacare enrollees by the end of 2015.

Many of those enrollees are likely to come from current customers. HHS this year is instituting a program that will automatically renew most existing customers in their current health plans unless they select another option.

While that program would support Obamacare enrollment tallies, Burwell and other officials have repeatedly urged existing customers to review their plan options on the government-run exchanges because of the chance they will find a less-expensive option than the one they have, or a plan that better suits their health needs.

Another issue that concerns officials is that a customer's current subsidy that helps them pay for their premiums could be reduced if they accept re-enrollment without shopping for another plan. Those subsidies are tied to the price of certain plans on Obamacare exchanges, and if that benchmark plan changes, it could lead to changes in the value of the subsidies.

Homepage of Covered California
Source: Covered California
Homepage of Covered California

Also Wednesday, California's Obamacare marketplace revealed that it had signed up nearly 50,000 new customers in the first 2 ½ weeks of open enrollment.

"The pace of enrollment is very strong," said Peter Lee, executive director of the Covered California insurance marketplace.

Lee said the rate of applications for eligibility and sign-ups is far in excess "of what we saw last year."

From Nov. 15 through Dec. 3, Covered California saw 48,950 people sign up for individual insurance plans, out of 130,000 people who were determined to be eligible for such coverage. The sign-ups represent new customers, not renewals from one of Covered California's more than 1 million existing Obamacare customers.

Lee said he is "very happy" with that result to date.

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He also said that with the Dec. 15 deadline approaching, "we expect the next days and this weekend we'll see continued and growing interest in enrollment."

Lee said that more than 40 "enrollment events" are scheduled to occur around the state though Monday.

Covered California, which had the largest number of Obamacare sign-ups of any state during the first open enrollment season, projects it will sign up 750,000 new customers by Feb. 15, bringing total individual plan enrollment on the exchange to around 1.7 million people in total..