WASHINGTON — With the Monday deadline still a few days away, the White House announced Thursday that more than 6 million people have signed up for health insurance through online marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.
That number, though shy of the 7 million sign-ups the administration had once hoped for, marks a significant milestone because 6 million was the projection for this year's enrollment made last month by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The figure also further underscores the strong recovery that the marketplaces have made since their disastrous debut last fall, potentially quieting concerns that the new system would fail to get a large-enough pool of consumers to work as planned.
In California, more than 1 million people have picked a health plan on the state-run exchange. Covered California officials said more than 50,000 households in the state started the application process Tuesday, the most ever in a single day.
On Thursday, President Obama touted the new nationwide tally, which includes those California figures, on a conference call from Italy to supporters and volunteers. The president, who is on a five-day European trip, asked the group, which the White House said numbered several thousand, to "redouble their efforts" through the final push.
The state-based marketplaces — a centerpiece of the health law — enable Americans who do not get health coverage at work to select among plans that offer at least a basic set of benefits. The plans cannot turn away sick people.
Consumers who make less than four times the federal poverty level, or about $94,000 for a family of four, qualify for subsidies to offset the cost of their premiums.
In addition to those signing up through the marketplaces, several million additional people have gained coverage through plans sold directly by insurers and through government Medicaid programs, primarily in the 27 states that have taken up the law's invitation to expand Medicaid.
As many outside experts had predicted, enrollment has been accelerating through March as the six-month sign-up period approaches an end Monday.
The administration has said that consumers who have started the process of enrolling by the end of the day Monday will be able to get additional time beyond the deadline to complete the process, though they have not said how long. California officials are giving people until April 15 to finish their health insurance application if they start signing up before midnight Monday.
After that, people will still be able to enroll if they have a significant change in circumstances, such as losing a job or having a child.
As the deadline approaches, government officials, activists and insurance companies are engaged in a huge outreach campaign to get uninsured Americans, particularly younger, healthier consumers, to sign up for coverage.
National Basketball Assn. stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are among a growing list of professional athletes who are calling on young people to get covered.
Obama administration officials are working closely with churches and other faith-based groups. The government has also advertised heavily in key markets where large numbers of uninsured people live.
In Idaho, public libraries have hosted presentations with the local Blue Cross plan about getting health insurance. In Arkansas, the local Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plan is partnering with Goodwill Industries to enable state residents to enroll in health insurance plans at Goodwill stores.
And in Pennsylvania, Independence Blue Cross has been driving a tractor-trailer called the Independence Express around the Philadelphia area, giving consumers a chance to come on board to meet with sales representatives and enroll in a health plan.
Those campaigns have helped drive a surge in traffic to the federal HealthCare.gov site, the main portal for insurance marketplaces in 36 states. The other 14 states, including California, Connecticut and Maryland, and the District of Columbia are operating their own marketplaces.
On Wednesday, the federal site had more than 1.5 million visits, and federal call centers logged more than 430,000 calls, according to the White House. The site drew 1.2 million visitors Tuesday and 1.1 million Monday.
The administration has not released data on how many people have actually paid for the health insurance plans that they have selected. Unofficial estimates from insurance companies and some state-run marketplaces suggest that as many as 20% of consumers have yet to pay their premiums, although some of those may not have been billed yet.
But with the Obama administration and many states allowing consumers to complete enrollment after March 31 in select circumstances, the sign-up tally could continue to grow into April.