Tuesday's the last day for people to sign up for health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges if they want coverage to start Jan. 1, and federal officials are making a last-minute push.
This is the third year people will be able to buy federally subsidized health insurance on the government-sponsored exchanges, and while no one expects people to sign up in the millions like they did during the disastrous first-year rollout, officials said the websites were busy.
"At 1 p.m. ET today, we had 160,000 simultaneous users on HealthCare.gov — by far our biggest day this year," Andy Slavitt, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said in a tweet Monday.
By 2:30, the number was up to 178,000.
The health insurance exchanges are central to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which aims to get most of Americans covered with health insurance and then to improve both medical care and coverage. They're a place where people can buy private health insurance if they're not covered — as most Americans are — by either an employer or by the federal and state governments under Medicare, Medicaid, or military healthcare.
The Obama administration wants as many people as possible to sign up, although it set very modest goals this year of 10 million people enrolled.
People who had ever signed on to Healthcare.gov but who had not bought insurance were bombarded with reminder e-mails with subject lines such as "Urgent: deadline tomorrow."
As of last week, CMS, which administers the exchanges, said 2.8 million people had chosen insurance plans for 2016.
"Eight out of 10 people who enrolled in a health insurance plan qualified for financial help. In fact, most people can find monthly premiums for $75 or less. Submit your application now and see how much you could save in 2016," one of the reminder emails promised.
The Health and Human Services Department offered a special extension last year to sign up, because many people may not yet have fully understood the requirements. But officials have said there will be no such break this coming year.
The 2010 law imposes a penalty for most people who deliberately go without health insurance. This year the tax — it comes out of your federal income tax bill — is $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income per person, whichever is higher. People have until Jan. 31 to obtain insurance or face the penalty.
Surveys have shown that the price of premiums is the No. 1 concern of people shopping on the exchanges, but many experts predict premiums will go up this year as insurance companies find it's more expensive to offer coverage than at first believed.
All told, according to the RAND Corporation, 17 million Americans have newly gotten coverage under the Affordable Care Act, either on the exchanges, through an expansion in some states of Medicaid, or via new rules that limit who insurance companies can refuse to cover. It found 11.2 million people bought insurance on the exchanges.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 32 million Americans still lack health insurance. In 2013, 16.7 percent of people under 65 lacked health insurance. That fell to 10.7 percent by the beginning of this year.