BUSINESS
11/26/2014 10:45 am ET Updated Nov 26, 2014

Obamacare Sign-Ups Near 500,000 After First Week

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

More than 460,000 people enrolled in a private health insurance plan on the federally run Obamacare exchanges in 37 states during the first week of the sign-up period for 2015 coverage, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

These enrollments are almost evenly split between renewals of existing customers and new sign-ups, according to a report issued by the department. More than 1 million people have submitted applications for financial assistance and coverage and almost 1.6 million have reviewed prices for insurance using HealthCare.gov's window-shopping feature between Nov. 15, the opening day of the three-month health insurance exchange enrollment period, and Nov. 21, the department disclosed.

President Barack Obama's administration aims to sign up more than 9 million people for private health insurance via these exchange marketplaces by the close of the enrollment period on Feb. 15, including renewing most of the approximately 7 million people who already have insurance policies obtained through the federally operated exchanges and those run by 13 states and the District of Columbia.

"We had a solid start, but we have a lot of work to do every day between now and February 15," Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell said in a press release.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services was forced to acknowledge it overcounted Obamacare health insurance enrollments for this year by hundreds of thousands by including people who purchased dental plans, after a report by Bloomberg News revealed the error, which was uncovered by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

During a conference call Wednesday with reporters, Burwell pledged greater transparency about the Obamacare exchanges. The Department of Health and Human Services will issue weekly and monthly reports on health insurance exchange enrollment, Burwell said.

The number of enrollees during the first week of the current sign-up push is more than four times the number who selected health insurance plans during all of October 2013, when the exchanges launched amid crippling technical problems.

States including Kentucky, Maryland and California that have their own exchanges also have reported strong enrollments so far.

Half a million enrollees in a week puts federal Obamacare officials on pace to sign up close to 1.8 million people during the first month, but the system remains far from the 9.1 million target for 2015 enrollees, which Burwell established earlier this month. The administration is standing by that aspiration, however, she said.

"We are staying with that number," Burwell said. "We have a lot of work before us, and we're going to continue focusing on that."

As of last month, nearly 7 million people had health insurance policies purchased through an exchange. The federal marketplaces and most state-run exchanges will automatically renew customers into their same plans for next year if they don't choose a different one. But with health insurance premium increases and decreases varying widely across the nation -- especially for the least costly and most popular policies on the market in 2014 -- consumers who fail to shop around could wind up paying much more by standing pat instead of seeking more affordable plans for next year.

"We are strongly urging and encouraging everyone to come back, make sure your information is the most up-to-date," Burwell said. "For many, many people it is very important to come back and shop."

The deadline to choose a health insurance plan that will be in place on Jan. 1 is Dec. 15. Current enrollees who automatically are renewed into their policies can still switch to a new one for the rest of next year after that date, up to the final deadline for 2015 coverage on Feb. 15.

This post has been updated with details from a conference call Burwell had with reporters.

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