More than 8.2 million consumers either signed up for new plans on the Obamacare federal marketplace or renewed their old plans in time for Jan. 1 coverage, according to an open enrollment report released Tuesday by the Department of Health and Human Services Monday.
Compared to the number of enrollees at this point last year, HealthCare.Gov sign-ups are up about 30 percent, HHS said, with 2.4 million new users on the federal marketplace.
The surge comes after HHS announced that it was extending the deadline for this open enrollment period from Dec. 15 to Dec. 17, having seen an unprecedented amount of traffic on its website and call centers.
Earlier in the year, HHS lowered expectations on marketplace enrollment, estimating that by the end of 2016 it expected to see about 10 million people enrolled in the state and federal marketplaces, instead of the 13 million projected by the Congressional Budget Office.
Pointing to the increase in sign-ups over last year, Larry Levitt, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in an email to TPM that “it looks like the administration should comfortably meet its target.”
“These figures should allay concerns that enrollment is at risk of stagnating,” he wrote.
Federal officials also highlighted the increase in young users on the marketplace, which, in theory, brings down premiums for everyone in the risk pool because young people tend to be healthier. As of Dec. 17, 2.1 million people under the age of 35 had signed up for plans through the federal marketplaces — about double the amount of young people at this time last year. Young people made up 41 percent of all new Healthcare.gov users (compared to 38 percent at the end this deadline period last year).
While it’s unclear what role it played in encouraging consumers to use the federal marketplace, the penalty for not having having health insurance is set to increase this year: Households that don’t have insurance in 2016 are expected to pay about double the tax penalty — an average of $969 — that they paid last year, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.
“There are probably many reasons behind the increase in enrollment and the enthusiasm that we are seeing. Penalty going up may be one,” said Dr. Meena Seshamani, the head of HHS’ Office of Health Reform, on a press call with reporters Tuesday timed to coincide with the release of the new enrollment numbers. “But also there are many more people who are in the marketplaces, so there are people who now have a family member, a work colleague, a neighbor who may be getting marketplace coverage and so it becomes more familiar to them.”