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Affordable Care Act notches 3 million enrollments

WASHINGTON — The number of people enrolled in private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act has soared by more than one-third in recent weeks to around 3 million, according to government data released on Friday.

Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced the preliminary tally in a blog posting. She forecast that enrollment through new federal and state health insurance marketplaces would continue to grow in coming weeks as a public outreach campaign accelerates.

The new data adds to evidence that President Barack Obama’s administration has turned the corner on enrollment after a botched Oct. 1 launch. It also shows that officials might still reach their initial goal of signing up 7 million people for private coverage by the time enrollment ends on March 31.

Analysts say Obama could highlight the 3 million number as a sign of progress when he addresses the topic of health care reform in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

The administration did not say how many of the new enrollees are young adults needed to ensure the success of the Affordable Care Act. Officials are relying on significant participation among healthy young adults to help offset costs from older enrollees and prevent insurers from raising their rates.

The latest tally is close to the 3.3 million mark that the administration originally expected by Jan. 1 and reflects a January gain of about 800,000 enrollees, or 36 percent, from the 2.2 million total reported earlier this month for the Oct. 1 through Dec. 28 period.

“We can now safely say that the exchanges will be stable,” said Topher Spiro of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank aligned with the Obama administration.

The figure was likely to include consumers who sought retroactive January coverage after Dec. 31. At the urging of the Obama administration, some plans have allowed consumers to sign up late for coverage beginning Jan. 1. Maryland’s state-run marketplace said on Friday that about 1,400 households have opted for retroactive enrollment through its marketplace.

Earlier this week, the administration announced that the number of people eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program rose to 6.3 million this month as a result of the enrollment effort. Medicaid and CHIP benefit poor people and their expansion represents an integral part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“With millions transitioning to new coverage already, we continue to see strong interest nationwide from consumers who want access to quality, affordable coverage,” Tavenner said in a blog posted on a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web page.

“As our outreach efforts kick into even higher gear, we anticipate these numbers will continue to grow, particularly as we reach even more uninsured young adults.”

Tavenner’s CMS is the HHS agency responsible for implementing most of the health care reform law.

Administration officials have expressed growing confidence in the ultimate success of Obama’s signature domestic policy since late last year, when an emergency effort to fix crippling glitches at the federal website, HealthCare.gov, finally allowed millions of people to visit the site and enroll for coverage without incident.

Much of the success has come from the 15 marketplaces run by states and the District of Columbia. California has reported more than 625,000 private health insurance enrollment since Oct. 1, and New York has announced a daily enrollment pace of 7,000 people for private insurance and Medicaid in January.

But administration officials acknowledge they still have a long way to go.

The Affordable Care Act marketplaces, which have been set up in all 50 states, offer private health insurance with subsidies to help pay premiums and other expenses for people with lower incomes.

But so far, three-quarters of enrollees have been older and sicker policyholders, whose greater need for health services means higher costs for insurers. The administration has said it wants 38 percent of the market to consist of younger adults, aged 18 to 34, whose lower health care costs would help keep overall costs in line.

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