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Millions More Sign Up for Obamacare Health Insurance

A woman picks up a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California. Lucy Nicholson / REUTERS file

About 2.5 million new people have signed up for health insurance next year on the 1-year-old Obamacare exchanges, federal officials said Tuesday. And that doesn’t include a last-minute rush to sign up in the three days before Dec. 15, the deadline to get health insurance that starts on the first day possible in January.

“It’s been a strong start,” said Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the exchanges.

It’s a big improvement over a year ago, when the federally run exchanges and many of the state exchanges crashed on their scheduled rollouts in October and were barely up and running by mid-December. The enrollment period ended up being extended into April.

“It’s been a strong start."

The exchanges are the centerpiece of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. They’re a way for people to buy private health insurance without relying on an employer, and often with hefty federal government subsidies.

They’re also a way for the federal government to better control what the administration has considered the worst excesses of insurers. Anyone offering a plan on an exchange may not cap coverage once people spend a certain amount, they must take all applicants who can pay, regardless of health status or preexisting conditions, and they must provide for a minimum of care, including cancer screenings and vaccinations.

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Slavitt says the technology is holding up this year and the sites have never been overwhelmed.

Last year, just under 7 million people signed up on the exchanges. They’ll be automatically re-enrolled unless they decline to be. Several million more people got health insurance, often for the first time, in the more than 20 states that agreed to expand the Medicaid state-federal health insurance plan for people with low incomes.

“This shows that millions of Americans want access to affordable quality health insurance and they came to the Marketplace to find it.”

“I am pleased with the response to date on Open Enrollment, but we know we still have a lot of work to do between now and February 15,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.

“This shows that millions of Americans want access to affordable quality health insurance and they came to the Marketplace to find it.”

There are 37 states that used the federal HealthCare.gov platform. The others have their own websites.

Consulting firm Avalere Health projects that 10.5 million will have health insurance on the exchanges by the end of 2015 — more than the federal government's projection of 9 million. People have until Feb. 15 to enroll in coverage on the federal exchanges.