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By Noam N. Levey, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – More than 5 million people have now signed up for health insurance on marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, thanks to a surge in enrollment over the past two weeks, the Obama administration announced Monday.

The quickening pace of enrollment confirms that many Americans are using the new marketplaces as a March 31 deadline approaches for getting coverage this year.

The latest figures indicate that roughly 1 million people enrolled in the past two weeks, surpassing the total for all of February.

If the pace continues, the Obama administration may come close to registering 6 million people in the first year that Americans are able to get guaranteed health coverage under the health-care law.

That would still fall short of the goal of 7 million that administration officials had hoped to reach before the botched rollout of the law last fall.

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How many people have paid for the health insurance plans they have selected remains uncertain.

Administration officials have not released data on payments. Unofficial estimates from insurance companies and some state-run marketplaces suggest that as many as 20 percent of enrollees in some markets have yet to pay their premiums, although some of those may not yet have been billed.

Nonetheless, 6 million enrollments would be an important accomplishment for the law’s supporters, who feared that the marketplaces might collapse after the disastrous launch of the federal HealthCare.gov website in October.

Drawing on the experience of previous government health programs, the administration and many outside experts had long predicted a rush to sign up for coverage in the final few weeks. In particular, they predicted that some groups, including young people and Latinos, whose participation in the marketplaces so far has lagged behind others’, increasingly would sign up as the deadline approached. The administration did not release a demographic breakdown for the latest enrollments.

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The state-based marketplaces enable Americans who do not get health-care coverage through work to select among plans that offer at least a basic set of benefits. The plans cannot turn away sick people.

People 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.

AFP Photo/Karen Bleier

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