Obamacare sign-ups top 10M as deadline approaches

Here comes the surge.

More than 10 million people have selected Obamacare insurance plans or been automatically re-enrolled in existing plans with just 11 days of open enrollment in health coverage remaining this season, according to official data released Wednesday.

And after another relatively low number of sign-ups on HealthCare.gov for the week ending last Saturday, there has been a marked uptick in the number of plan selections in recent days on that federally run exchange, which sells insurance in 37 states, a top health official said.

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"We are seeing a ramp-up actually . . . that we're very encouraged by," said HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan during a conference call with reporters in which he and other officials emphasized the importance of people beating the Feb. 15 deadline.

Most Americans must have some form of health coverage by that date or face a tax penalty. In 2015, the fine is the higher of $325 per adult or 2 percent of taxable household income.

Counihan and other officials said they expect there will be a large surge of people shopping and selecting plans on HealthCare.gov and state-run insurance marketplaces in the days leading up to Feb. 15.

"Last year, for a example, a huge amount of enrollees came in the last couple of days," Counihan said

A total of 179,710 people chose a plan on HealthCare.gov from Jan. 23 through Jan. 31, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. That brings the total number of people who selected plans or have been automatically re-enrolled in existing HealthCare.gov plans to 7.47 million.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell
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Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell

Also Wednesday, New York state's Obamacare exchange revealed there had been a significant increase in plan selections in recent weeks, bringing that state's current tally to almost 513,000 people.

New York's announcement brought the official nationwide tally of Obamacare plan selections and re-enrollments to more than 10 million since open enrollment began Nov. 15.

The balance came the 13 other exchanges being run by individual states and the District of Columbia.

That 10-million tally does not represent paid enrollments. For enrollments to be official, a customer must pay the first month's premium. Some of the people who have already selected plans or been re-enrolled will not make those payments.

Prior to open enrollment this season, there were about 6.7 million paying Obamacare customers nationwide.

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Officials on Wednesday said that deal with the expected surge as the deadline approaches, they are increasing the number of customer service representatives staffing HealthCare.gov's call center from more than 10,000 currently to about 14,000 by the beginning of next week.

Counihan also said that "we are conducting intense outreach efforts to people" to get them to sign up by the deadline.

"There's still time to sign up, but the clock is ticking," said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

Another top health official suggested on Wednesday that there will be no extension of the final enrollment deadline this year, despite an extension being granted last year.

"Customers need to treat Feb. 15 as their last coverage for the year," said Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

However, as with previous Obamacare deadlines, Slavitt said customers who were "in line" on HeathCare.gov waiting to finish their plan selections will be able to complete that process after the deadline.

"I would advise people ... to come back as early as possible," Slavitt said. "Those lines will be building, and people will have [a] much better time of it, and a much easier time if they come" earlier, he said.

The leading HealthCare.gov states for sign-ups or re-enrollments so far are Florida, with nearly 1.34 million people; Texas, with almost 970,000; and North Carolina, with 479,748.

Also Wednesday, HHS released plan selection tallies for several dozen metropolitan areas. The leading number of plan selections came from the Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area in Florida, with 637,514 selections or re-enrollments.

That was followed by Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Roswell in Georgia, with 296,857 people.

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The Obama administration has said it expected that 9.1 million people will be paying for Obamacare coverage by the end of 2015. But it has also said that it expects as many as 9.9 million to have been signed up for and paid for plans by the open-enrollment deadline.

The difference in the numbers stems from the fact that some people will end up dropping out of their Obamacare plans after getting coverage for other reasons.

The Congressional Budget Office is projecting that 12 million people will be enrolled in Obamacare plans by the end of this year.