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Thursday, December 8, 2016

By Noam N. Levey, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — With less than a month remaining in the first enrollment period, more than 4.2 million Americans have signed up for health insurance on marketplaces created by President Barack Obama’s health law, administration officials announced Tuesday.

The new enrollment report confirms that the administration and its allies will probably fall short of the 7 million sign-ups they had hoped to get in 2014.

The report also shows that health insurance sign-ups continued to recover in February from the disastrous launch of the federal HealthCare.gov website. More than 940,000 people enrolled in coverage in February alone.

Based on the experience of other programs, officials expect the rate of sign-ups to accelerate between now and the March 31 deadline for enrolling in coverage this year.

The sign-up figures overstate actual enrollment, however, as many consumers have not paid their insurance bills. Administration officials have not released figures on the number of paid premiums. Some insurers have reported that as many as 1 in 5 consumers have not yet paid.

California continues to lead all states through the first five months of enrollment, with nearly 869,000 people signed up for a health plan through the state’s marketplace, Covered California.

Florida, which is among 36 states that are relying on the federal government to run their marketplaces this year, was second with more than 244,000 sign-ups.

Next are Texas, New York, North Carolina and Michigan.

“Now, during this final month of open enrollment, our message to the American people is this,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. “You still have time to get covered, but you’ll want to sign up today.”

The state-based marketplaces — a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act — enable Americans who do not get coverage at work to select among plans that offer at least a basic set of benefits. The plans cannot turn away sick people.

Consumers who make less than four times the federal poverty level, or about $94,000 for a family of four, qualify for government subsidies to offset the cost of their premiums.

It remains unclear how many of the people signing up for coverage were previously uninsured, a key measurement for the effectiveness of the landmark 2010 law.

But several new surveys suggest that the marketplaces may be having an effect on health coverage.