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Affordable Care Act Enrollment Surges as Deadline Looms

By Rebecca Adams, CQ Roll Call

January 21, 2015 -- The number of people who signed up for a Affordable Care Act marketplace plan ticked back up after three slow weeks during the week ending Jan. 16, with 400,253 people in 37 states choosing a plan through as a deadline loomed.

The total number of sign-ups since the start of the enrollment period is now almost 7.2 million, with less than a month left in the season.

During the previous week, only 163,050 people chose a plan through the federal exchange, and that was a three-week high point. The deadline for coverage that starts Feb. 1 came on Jan. 15.

The data released by Health and Human Services (HHS) officials last week does not include statistics from marketplaces in states that operate their own enrollment websites.

The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that 13 million people would enroll this year through both the federal marketplace and separate state-run marketplaces. HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell chose to set the bar lower, at 9.1 million people.

With the holidays over and the end of the open enrollment period ending on Feb. 15, interest picked up on most measures, although the metrics for Spanish-only speakers remained low despite a push by Burwell and advocacy groups to reach out to Latinos and encourage them to enroll. More than 1.3 million people called in during the week to call centers to ask questions about coverage, leading to a wait time to speak to a representative of more than 11 minutes. HHS officials said that 128,189 callers needed a Spanish translator.

More than 3.7 million people visited last week, compared to 152,385 people who visited the Spanish language website.

Florida continued to outpace other states in signing up people, with nearly 1.3 million residents choosing a plan. In Texas, 918,890 people enrolled.

Health policy experts have predicted that Americans would respond as they did last year, with an influx of sign-ups around important deadlines. If people wait past Feb. 15 to enroll for coverage that takes effect on March 1, they may have to wait until the fall to get health insurance if they want coverage that isn't offered through employers.  However, HHS officials also allow people to sign up if they have any of a long list of changes in their circumstances, such as if the number of people in their family changes, they move or they lose their jobs.

HHS officials also released data showing the total number of health plan selections by zip code for the 37 states that rely on for enrollment. The information is up-to-date for new or reenrolled customers as of Jan. 16. The dataset will be updated after open enrollment ends on Feb. 15.

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