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More than 6 million people have signed up for health insurance on the new exchanges, a number that signals a tremendous last-minute surge, the White Housesaid Thursday.
President Barack Obama told volunteers and navigators helping sign people up that 1.5 million people visited HealthCare.gov on Wednesday – the highest-traffic day yet. Officials have said they logged more than a million visits each day so far this week.
"We are seeing near-record numbers of consumers coming to check out their options and enroll in coverage. Yesterday alone, we had 1.5 million visits to HealthCare.gov and took more than 430,000 calls at our 24/7 call center," said Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which operated the website.
Americans have until the end of the day Monday, March 31, to get started signing up for health insurance on the new online marketplaces. The federal government is running the sites for 36 states; the rest are running their own.
People who don’t get themselves some sort of health insurance – through an employer, Medicare, Medicaid, on the exchanges or elsewhere – in their must pay an extra tax next year. But there are plenty of exceptions, and the Obama administration detailed a few more this week.
An estimated 16 percent of Americans went without health insurance last year, and one of the main purposes of the 2010 Affordable Care Act was to get them covered.
The Congressional Budget Office originally predicted that 7 million would sign up this first year, but later revised that number down to 6 million after HealthCare.gov's disastrous rollout in October. Insurance experts say the absolute number of sign-ups doesn't matter.
They say what matters more is whether enough people of different ages and with different health levels get enrolled so that the insurers can charge reasonable premiums.
Nonetheless, the White House and its allies will almost certainly point the the numbers as a victory. At the beginning of the month, the federal government said 4.2 million had signed up.