WASHINGTON – More than 5 million people have now signed up for health insurance on marketplaces created by President Obama's healthcare law, thanks to a surge in enrollment over the last two weeks, the Obama administration announced Monday.
The quickening pace of sign-ups confirms that many Americans are using the new marketplaces as a March 31 deadline approaches for getting coverage this year.
The latest figures indicate that roughly 1 million people enrolled during the last two weeks, surpassing the total for all of February.
If the pace continues, the Obama administration may come close to registering 6 million sign-ups in the first year that Americans are able to get guaranteed health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
That would still fall short of the goal of 7 million that administration officials had hoped to reach before the botched rollout of the new law last fall.
How many people have actually paid for the health insurance plans they have selected remains uncertain.
Administration officials have not released data on payments. Unofficial estimates from insurance companies and some state-run marketplaces suggest that as many as 20% of consumers in some markets have yet to pay their premiums, although some of those may not yet have been billed.
Nonetheless, 6 million sign-ups would mark an important accomplishment for the health law's supporters, who feared that the marketplaces might collapse after the disastrous launch of the HealthCare.gov website in October.
"As this historic open enrollment period enters its final weeks, millions of Americans are finding quality, affordable coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act," Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner, whose agency is overseeing the marketplaces, wrote in a blog post Monday.
Drawing on the experience of previous government health programs, the administration and many outside experts had long predicted a rush to sign up for coverage during the final few weeks. In particular, they have predicted that some groups, including young people and Latinos, whose participation in the marketplaces so far has lagged behind others', increasingly would sign up as the deadline approached. The administration did not release a demographic breakdown Monday for the latest enrollments.
The state-based marketplaces -- a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare -- enable Americans who do not get health coverage through 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 government subsidies to offset the cost of their premiums.