HHS hits 6 million health care enrollment mark

WASHINGTON — More than 6 million people have enrolled in the federal and state health exchanges as of Thursday, President Obama announced this afternoon.

This means the administration has met its latest goal, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office, to ensure the insurance system is sustainable.

Obama made the announcement on a conference call with health care navigators and volunteers while he was traveling in Italy. He thanked them for their help.

The latest milestone comes after the troubled opening of the federal exchange Oct. 1. Software problems and other issues rendered the site virtually unusable for weeks, and it took a surge of technology support to have it fixed by Nov. 30. Since then, however, enrollments have risen dramatically, particularly as the Dec. 31 and March 31 deadlines approached.

More than 1.5 million people visited HealthCare.gov Wednesday, just days ahead of the March 31 enrollment deadline. Those who do not have insurance this year will have to pay a fine with their taxes next January.

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"We're at a level that's likely to support a healthy system, said Cecilia Muñoz, assistant to the president and director of the domestic policy council, at the Atlantic's Health Care Forum Thursday morning. "The insurers are feeling pretty good about where we are, and so are we."

Muñoz said she feels sure that the people entering the exchanges are people who did not have insurance before.

"We're beginning to see the levels of uninsured are starting to go down," she said. "That's how we know it's not people who had insurance before."

Muñoz clarified that anyone who attests that he or she began the enrollment process before midnight Monday — either had started the paperwork with a navigator, had waited on the phone or on the website — would be able to enroll after midnight. But she reiterated that March 31 is still the deadline.

"You have to attest that you are making a good-faith effort," she said.

Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a blog that the call center received 430,000 calls Wednesday.

"We are seeing near record numbers of consumers coming to check out their options and enroll in coverage," she wrote. "With 4 days left for consumers to sign up for coverage, we are working hard to ensure that our systems can handle the unprecedented demand as people enroll before the March 31 deadline."


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