There's going to be a lot of new Obamacare plans underneath Christmas trees on Thursday.
As of last Friday, about 6.4 million people had signed up for 2015 health insurance plans sold on HealthCare.gov, the federal Obamacare exchange that serves 37 states, officials announced Tuesday.
That big number included about 1.9 million new customers, existing Obamacare customers who actively re-enrolled since sign-ups began Nov. 15, and people who were automatically re-enrolled in their current health coverage in the past week, according to the Health and Human Services Department.
The tally reflects a surge in sign-ups that occurred in advance of HealthCare.gov's Dec. 15 deadline for enrolling in plans that take effect Jan. 1. It also reflects the policy of automatic re-enrollment for most current customers, which began Dec. 16 and was completed by last Thursday.
When the 6.4 million HealthCare.gov total is added to confirmed sign-ups from the 13 Obamacare exchanges run by states and the District of Columbia, total enrollment for 2015 plans in this open-enrollment season is about 7.44 million, according to data compiled by the Obamacare tracking site ACASignups.net.
"I expected a surge in enrollment as the year wound down, but this was a bigger surge than I expected," said Larry Levitt, a Kaiser Family Foundation expert on Obamacare.
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Levitt also said "it seems pretty clear at this point that the [Obama[ administration will exceed their target" of having 9.1 million people enrolled in Affordable Care Act insurance plans sold through government-run exchanges by the end of 2015. To be considered officially enrolled, a customer must make a premium payment.
He said he expects another big surge in sign-ups in advance of the Feb. 15 close of open enrollment. "If you don't sign up by February 15, you can't get insurance for the rest of 2015," Levitt noted.
He said it will be tougher this year to sign up new, currently uninsured customers for Obamacare plans than it was during the first open-enrollment season, which ended in mid-April.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said, "We still have a lot of work to do before the February 15 enrollment deadline, but this is an encouraging start. People shopped for coverage and signed up—finding more choices and greater competition."
"Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, so far nearly 6.4 million consumers, including about 1.9 million new consumers, have access to quality, affordable health coverage for 2015 through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.This law is working, and families are better off as a result."
Tuesday's enrollment report comes as most states' deadline for enrolling in coverage that takes effect Jan. 1 has passed.
Tuesday is the deadline for Massachusetts and Washington state residents to choose plans effective by the New Year. Exchanges in four other states—Vermont, Minnesota, Hawaii and Rhode Island—have given residents until Dec. 31 to select plans that take effect the next day.
However, the open-enrollment season in Obamacare plans ends Feb. 15. People will have until then to choose a plan effective in 2015 and can change a plan they had already selected.
Under the ACA, nearly all Americans must have some form of health insurance—such as Obamacare plans, employer-provided coverage, Medicare or Medicaid—or pay a tax penalty.
People who lacked health coverage in 2014 are subject to a potential fine of up to 1 percent of their taxable income. In 2015, that rises to up to 2 percent.
Before open enrollment began Nov. 15, about 6.7 million people nationally were enrolled as paying customers in Obamacare health plans sold on the government-run exchanges.
About 85 percent of those people received federal government subsidies to help pay for their monthly premiums. Such tax credits are available to people who earn between one and four times the federal poverty level, or $11,670 to $46,680 for a single adult, or $23,850 to $95,400 for a family of four.
In a report issued in early December, HHS said an analysis of plans available for 2015 shows that almost 8 in 10 customers on HealthCare.gov would be able to buy coverage for $100 or less per month after the application of those tax credits.