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Mum's the word on Obamacare tax season enrollment numbers

Maybe the results so far for this Obamacare enrollment period aren't so "special," after all.

The Obama administration has yet to release information on how many people have signed up for HealthCare.gov plans during an ongoing special enrollment period, despite having promised to divulge that data this week.

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That sign-up period, which began March 15, is open to people who only this tax season learned that they are subject to a financial penalty for failing to obtain health coverage in 2014 as required by the Affordable Care Act.

Andrew Slavitt
Getty Images
Andrew Slavitt

During a March 20 media conference call, CNBC asked federal officials if they would provide weekly updates on special enrollment sign-ups on HealthCare.gov, the federally run insurance exchange that serves 37 states.

"We are planning on having some release on what the numbers look like sometime next week," said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in response to that question.

But when asked Thursday about whether such information would be disclosed, and when, a Health and Human Services Department spokesman said he did not have an "update" on the special enrollment period data.

The spokesman did not respond to a follow-up request for comment on why there was no update this week as Slavitt had promised.

Late Friday afternoon, after this story was first published, a federal official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that HHS plans to release information about the number of special enrollment sign-ups next week.

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The lack of disclosure so far contrasts with HHS' practice during the three-month open enrollment season in Obamacare plans for 2015, which ended Feb. 15. During that period, HHS released sign-up tallies on a weekly basis for HealthCare.gov.

HHS' lack of response also contrasts with the practice of at least one state-run Obamacare exchange.

On Friday morning, CNBC asked Washington state's Obamacare marketplace if it was issuing updates on special enrollment numbers.

Within hours, the spokeswoman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange responded via email, saying that "to date, we've had about 4,000 residents enroll through the special enrollment period."

Residents in all 37 states served by HealthCare.gov are able to enroll in Obamacare plans during the special enrollment period if they had only just learned they were liable for the tax penalty for having failed to get insurance last year. That enrollment period runs through April 30.

All other states except for three—Colorado, Idaho and Massachusetts—are also having similar special enrollment periods for tax season.

The grace periods are being offered due to the fact that this is the first tax season that Obamacare penalties are coming due, and many people were still unaware of them.

If the special sign-up season had not been offered, people who owed the penalty for last year would have been unable to sign up for health plans effective this year to avoid the penalties next tax season.

The fine for not having health coverage last year is the higher amount of $95 per adult, or 1 percent of taxable income. That penalty increases to $325 per adult or 2 percent of taxable household income for failing to have health coverage this year.

This story has been updated to include a comment from a federal official, who said HHS plans to release special enrollment data next week.