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Obamacare Enrollment Drops in January From a December High

Amanda Deardorff, left, a health enrollment navigator with Open Door Health Solutions, helps Valerie Kazer through the process of signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act in Muncie, Ind.

Amanda Deardorff, left, a health enrollment navigator with Open Door Health Solutions, helps Valerie Kazer through the process of signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act in Muncie, Ind. // AJ Mast/AP

Enrollment in new Obamacare health insurance plans dropped by about one-third in January after hitting a high mark in December.

After 1.8 million people enrolled in Obamacare plans in December, only about 1.1 million additional people enrolled in January, the Obama administration reported.

Enrollment through the once troubled federal marketplace dropped from about 1 million in December to 743,000 in January. Enrollment in the District of Colulmbia and the 14 states that manage their own online marketplaces dropped from 730,000 in December to 403,000 in January.

The December enrollment numbers were likely buoyed by consumers eager to obtain health insurance before the New Year when some policies were due to expire. The next significant deadline for Obamacare is the end of March, when open enrollment will end for 2014.

Enrollment in both federal and state exchanges is up significantly from October and November when was riddled with computer glitches that took two months of round the clock work to repair. State and federal marketplaces combined enrolled about 365,000 people during the first two months.

“We are encouraged by the number of people we’ve seen enroll in plans,” said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department. “As we’ve said before, our goal is to enroll as many people as possible in quality affordable coverage through the marketplace. We believe we’re on track to do that.”

The enrollment figures are well below the government’s expectations. Officials initially projected the marketplaces would enroll 7 million new insurance seekers by the close of March. The Congressional Budget Office now projects 6 million enrollments. About 3.3 million people have signed up so far.

Officials have said they expect that number to surge in the program’s final month as people who waited until the last moment rush to enroll. That’s based on the experience of Massachusetts, which launched a similar government-aided health care program.

About 32 percent of enrollees during Obamacare’s fourth month were 34 or younger, up slightly from 30 percent during the sites’ first three months. Experts have said it’s vital that Obamacare plans enroll a sufficient percentage of younger and healthier people to balance the risk in insurance pools and to keep premiums from rising to unaffordable levels.

The administration does not have data on how many new Obamacare enrollees were previously uninsured, Bataille said.

The government is in the midst of a massive outreach campaign to draw in new enrollees, including social media campaigns aimed at younger uninsured people and television ads during the Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. 

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