Obamacare sign-ups have topped 6 million people, with just days to go before the close of open enrollment, President Obama announced Thursday.
Obama revealed the milestone during a conference call with several thousand navigators and volunteers who are trying to get people signed up in the new kinds of health insurance plans by next Monday's deadline.
His administration recently had set 6 million enrollees as its revised goal by that deadline.
Last summer, the administration had said it expected 7 million people to sign up for private Obamacare plans for 2014. But that target was soon abandoned after the technologically botched launch of the federal health exchange HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1 left that site and several state-run exchange unable to sign up significant numbers of people for two months.
During Obama's call, which was made while he is traveling in Italy, he "thanked the group for all their hard work to date and discussed the importance of building on this progress over the last four days of open enrollment," according to the White House press office.
"With consumers' interest in signing up for health insurance surging – yesterday there were over 1.5 million visits to HealthCare.gov and over 430,000 calls to the call centers – the president encouraged the navigators and volunteers to redouble their efforts over the next four days and leave no stone unturned in trying to bring affordable health coverage to as many Americans as possible by the March 31 deadline," the press office said.
"Nationwide, there more than 27,000 trained assistors in all fifty states who are helping consumers sign up in their communities."
The 6 million tally represents the number of people who have been approved for eligibility and selected a private Obamacare plans sold on government-run exchanges. Insurance experts have estimated that between 80 to 85 percent of the total tally have paid their first premiums, which is required for people to be officially enrolled, and eligible for health benefits.
HealthCare.gov sells competitively priced insurance in 36 states. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are operating their own Obamacare exchanges.
Officials have predicted there would be a surge of enrollments this month to meet the deadline for nearly all Americans to have some form of health coverage, or incur a tax penalty next year equal to as much as 1 percent of their taxable income.
That appears to be happening.
Officials on March 11 had revealed that enrollments as of the end of February was 4.2 million. Six days later, on St. Patrick's Day, they announced that sign-ups had topped 5 million.
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday reported that HealthCare.gov had enrolled 100,000 people on both Monday and Tuesday.
Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee College of Law who specializes in health care reform, said the newly announced tally reflects the benefits offered by Obamacare.
"It should be no surprise that people actually want the security of health insurance when it is available and affordable," Jost said. "Had the states that oppose the Affordable Care Act actually tried to help people sign up rather than putting barriers in their way, we could be well over 7 million by now."
Anne Filipic, president of the leading Obamacare advocacy group, said the "announcement that 6 million consumers have successfully chosen health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace is great news and demonstrates the momentum that our hundreds of staff and tens of thousands of volunteers are seeing every day, as unprecedented numbers of uninsured Americans are showing up to our hundreds of enrollment events across the country."
"With so many more who still stand to benefit from the new affordable health care options, we're not taking our foot off the pedal in the least. Over the next few days, we'll continue our all-hands-on-deck effort to help as many Americans as possible get covered before March 31," Filipic said.
Obama's announcement of the 6 million enrollments came a day after administration officials revealed details of a special enrollment period that will allow some people to sign up for an insurance plan past Monday's deadline without incurring a penalty.
To qualify for that grace period, people must affirm that they had begun the application process on HealthCare.gov but were prevented from completing their enrollment by technological issues or other problems. Officials set no firm deadline for those people to either make that affirmation or select a plan, suggesting that until the deadline they would not know how many people would have to be accommodated.
The tweak in the rules, just the latest in a series of deadline extensions and revisions by administration officials, drew renewed criticism from Republican opponents to Obamacare, who fault the president both for those changes, and for the underlying framework of the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-MI, on Wednesday noted that the latest deadline modification came two weeks after an administration officials "insisted that the administration did not have 'statutory authority' to extend the enrollmen tperiod for this year."
"Yet here we are," Upton said. "Sadly, the administration has wreaked havoc on the peace of mind for many Americans who are now confronted with plan cancellations, skyrocketing premiums, and lost access to a trusted doctor. Itis time for fairness for all - all that's left is to delay the individual mandate."
Final enrollment tallies should be available sometime in mid-April. After that, no one will be allowed to enroll in plans sold on the government exchanges until next fall unless they have a so-called "qualifying life event," such as divorcing, losing their job or having a child.
Even with the new tally, tens of millions of people will still not have health insurance after the deadline passes.