Update on health law sign-ups for 2016 shows enrollment slowed over Thanksgiving week

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WASHINGTON — Health insurance sign-ups through HealthCare.gov slowed over Thanksgiving week, the Obama administration said Wednesday. But they're not hitting the panic button yet.

A Thanksgiving slowdown was expected, because consumers are traveling, spending time with family, and going shopping. The federal insurance website seems to be humming along smoothly. And millions of current customers will be automatically re-enrolled for 2015 if they do nothing.

Still, updated figures from the administration showed that a little more than 300,000 people picked a plan from Nov. 22 through Black Friday, Nov. 28, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

That compared to more than 460,000 the previous week, and it brought the total to at least 765,000 people enrolled for 2015. About half are new customers and half were changing or updating their current coverage.

The first really big test will come Dec. 15, which is the deadline for people to sign up for new coverage that takes effect Jan. 1.

It's also the deadline for current customers to make changes to their coverage and have those take effect at the start of the year.

The open enrollment period runs through Feb. 15.

"The numbers of people enrolling early are underwhelming, but nobody is going to jump out there and say Obamacare is failing, only to see 6 million people sign up in December," said Robert Laszewski, a health industry consultant. Last year showed that many consumers are driven by deadlines and wait until the last minute to act.

Wednesday's numbers were preliminary, and also partial. They included only sign-ups from the 37 states using the federal website. Some major states including California and New York are running their own enrollment efforts, and their numbers were not in the federal report.

The Obama administration has set a national goal 9.1 million people signed up for 2015, a significant increase over the roughly 6.7 million who remain enrolled this year.

Current customers will be automatically renewed if they make no changes, but that may leave many of them facing higher premiums, so the administration is joining consumer advocates in recommending that people reassess their options.

President Barack Obama's health care law offers subsidized private health insurance to those who don't have coverage on the job. Online markets called exchanges provide different options in each state.

One statistic from Wednesday's update was particularly telling. Call center wait times averaged 8 seconds during Thanksgiving week, compared to a little over three minutes the previous week.


Online:

Administration update: http://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts/blog/2014/12/open-enrollment-week-two.html

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