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The federal Obamacare marketplace saw another slow holiday-interrupted week—but inched closer to official goals of enrolling more than 9 million people nationally in 2015.
By last Friday, 6.59 million people had selected a health insurance plan or been automatically re-enrolled in an existing plan sold through HealthCare.gov, officials revealed Wednesday
From Dec. 27 through last Friday, a period that included New Year's Eve and day, just 102,896 people selected an insurance plan on HealthCare.gov, which serves the 37 states not running their own Obamacare marketplace, officials said.
That was a slight increase from the 96,446 people who chose a plan in the prior week, which included the Christmas holiday.
But it's dramatically lower than the more than 1 million people who signed up in the week that ended Dec. 12, the last period before automatic re-enrollments significantly boosted HealthCare.gov's tally.
The data released Wednesday do not include sign-ups on the 14 Obamacare exchanges run by individual states and the District of Columbia, which report their data separately. Charles Gaba, who runs an online Obamacare enrollment tracker, has estimated that the number of current sign-ups on those 14 exchanges is nearly 2.3 million, which would bring total enrollment nationally for 2015 plans up to 8.88 million.
The holiday season was just one reason in what has been a marked slowdown in business on HealthCare.gov since mid-December.
The major reason blamed for the drop-offs in enrollment is the fact that mid-December was the deadline for signing up for coverage on that exchange to have plans that took effect by Jan. 1.
Officials expect business to pick up again in advance of the Feb. 15 close of open enrollment in individual insurance plans. Open enrollment began on Nov. 15.
For insurance plans to take effect, customers must pay their first month's premium. Before open enrollment began for 2015, there were about 6.7 million paying Obamacare customers in the U.S.
Obama administration officials have said they expect 9.1 million people to be enrolled by the end of 2015. The Congressional Budget Office earlier had said it expected 13 million people to be enrolled for this year. A number of nongovernment health-care analysts have said they expect the final tally to be somewhere between those two estimates.
The disclosure came hours after Obamacare advocates received good news about continued declines in the numbers of Americans who lack insurance.
The percentage of people without health insurance in the U.S. reached a record low 12.9 percent in the last quarter of 2014, according to data released by the Gallup research organization.
That represents a 4.2 percentage-point drop in the year since Obamacare exchanges began selling private insurance plans, Gallup said. The steep, rapid drop coincides with both the exchanges opening for business and the expansion of Medicaid benefits to poor adults in more than half of the states.
The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to have some kind of heath coverage—such as Obamacare plans, employer-provided insurance, Medicare or Medicaid—by Feb. 15, or face a fine of up to 2 percent of their taxable income.
The vast majority of enrollees have qualified for federal subsidies to help pay for the monthly premiums for Obamacare exchange-sold plans.
Those subsidies are available to people who earn one to four times the federal poverty level, which is $11,670 for an individual and $23,850 for a family of four in most of the country.
The legality of that financial assistance is being challenged in a case due to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March.
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Plaintiffs in that case claim that HealthCare.gov customers are not eligible for subsidies because the ACA does not explicitly authorize such assistance for customers of a federal Obamacare exchange, as it does for customers of state-run exchanges.
The Obama administration argues subsidies are legal, and that it will prevail in the case.