By Noam N. Levey
Approximately 11.4 million people have signed up for health coverage through the Affordable Care Act this year, President Barack Obama announced Tuesday, signaling a strong conclusion to the federal health law's second enrollment period.
With thousands more people expected to enroll in the coming days as applications for coverage are completed and processed, the total will likely increase.
That should ensure that the final 2015 tally will easily exceed last year's enrollment total and mark further progress in the law's program for expanding coverage.
More still may enroll if the Obama administration decides to hold a special enrollment period after April 15. The administration has been considering doing so to allow people who had to pay a penalty for not having health coverage in 2014 get insurance this year and avoid a second year of penalties.
"It gives you some sense of how hungry people were out there for affordable, accessible health insurance," Obama said in a two-minute video posted on Facebook that features him speaking in the Oval Office with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell over a background soundtrack.
"The Affordable Care Act is working," Obama said in the video.
The 2010 law allows Americans who don't get health benefits at work to shop among private insurance plans sold on state-based marketplaces operated by the federal government or by the states themselves.
Consumers making less than four times the federal poverty level _ or about $94,000 for a family of four _ qualify for subsidies. Insurers must provide a basic set of benefits and cannot turn away consumers, even if they are sick.
About 6.5 million people had health coverage through the marketplaces at the end of 2014 _ a lower total than the 8 million who initially signed up, as some people dropped their plans or switched to other coverage through the year.
This year, the Obama administration sought to lower expectations, suggesting that roughly 9 million to 10 million people would enroll in 2015.
That was considerably lower than the 13 million that independent analysts once predicted would get coverage through the marketplaces in their second year.
But the gains in coverage would still be considerable. Steady increases in enrollment are considered vital to key goals of the health care law: to reduce the number of uninsured and keep premiums in check by getting healthier Americans into the market.
Whether the gains will be sustained remains unclear, however.
The Supreme Court will hear a challenge next month to the law's system for providing subsidies to offset insurance premiums in states that rely on the federal government to operate their marketplaces.
Should the court rule against the subsidies later this year, most of the Americans on the marketplaces would no longer be able to afford their coverage and would likely drop their enrollment.
(c)2015 Tribune Co.