- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

About 9.5 million Americans selected Obamacare plans with a month to spare before the Feb. 15 deadline to sign up, meaning the Obama administration likely will far exceed its modest enrollment goals for the law’s health exchanges in 2015.

Both new and returning customers were included in the Health and Human Services Department’s enrollment report Tuesday, which covers HealthCare.gov customers in 37 states and people who used exchanges run by 13 states and the District of Columbia through staggered cutoff dates of Jan. 16-18.

Fifty-eight percent of customers re-upped in exchange plans, while the rest were first-time enrollees, although the data did not reflect how many people had effectuated their enrollment by paying their first month’s premiums.

The administration had set an enrollment target of 9.1 million, or far short of congressional budget estimates of 13 million enrollees for 2015.

Many enrollees sign up at the last minute, so the administration should hit its 2015 target even after a share of enrollees forfeit their coverage for failing to pay their premiums.

HHS Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the agency is “pleased” by its progress, but that uninsured Americans should act before next month’s deadline.

“We still have a lot of work to do before February 15, but are encouraged by the strong interest we’ve seen so far,” she said.

About 7.1 million customers signed up through the federal HealthCare.gov website, and 2.4 million came from states with their own web platforms.

HHS said about a quarter of people who signed up were ages 18 to 34, a key demographic that tends to be healthier and keep premiums in check.

Young people tended to sign up at the last minute in spring 2014, and pro-Obamacare groups such as Enroll America announced a full-court press Tuesday to sign up millennials in the homestretch.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said that while patients ages 18 to 34 are typically healthy, they tend to fall ill when they least expect it.

“That’s why coverage is so important for millennials,” he said on a conference call with reporters.

HHS said 87 percent of customers on HealthCare.gov qualified for government subsidies that help to offset premiums.

The subsidies are a vital part of the law, because they make plans affordable for low- and moderate-income Americans.

They are under threat in the federal marketplace, though, by a lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

The justices will decide by June whether the IRS unlawfully extended the subsidies to customers on the federal exchange, since the law refers to exchanges “established by the state.”

HHS says Congress never intended to treat states differently, and that customers should enjoy subsidies no matter where they live, because the agency stands in for states that refused to establish their own marketplaces.

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