For much of the country, Monday was the last day to enroll in health insurance coverage through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace, Healthcare.gov, to have a Jan. 1, 2015 effective date. Overall enrollment ends Feb. 15, 2015. Unlike last year’s open enrollment, the system has hit few, if any, snags and is on track to hit or exceed its enrollment estimates.

Separately, officials in both New York and Idaho — both state-run marketplaces — extended the deadlines to enroll with a 1/1 effective date by a few days.

In New York and Idaho, state officials announced that the deadline to enroll for coverage beginning Jan. 1 had been extended to Dec. 20 from Dec. 15.

In New York, the change was a result of severe weather. “The extreme weather that parts of the state experienced in November has effectively cut short the enrollment period for many consumers who are making decisions about 2015 coverage options or enrolling in coverage for the first time,” said New York State Of Health Executive Director Donna Frescatore in a statement. “By extending the deadline — in an already condensed enrollment period — we are ensuring that all New Yorkers have the same opportunity to start the new year with affordable coverage in a plan that’s right for them.”

In Idaho, the state did not give a reason for the extension, only to say in a statement that it would give Idahoans extra time to “receive their tax eligibility and find a plan that is right for them and their families.”

ACA's unpopular, pivotal point

Caroline Pearson, a vice president at Avalere Health, a consulting firm in Washington, predicted that as many as 5 million new customers will join about 6 million expected to renew their 2014 coverage. The final number may depend on President Barack Obama, who helped create a surge of business last March by personally promoting enrollment, Pearson said.

“You cannot underestimate the bully pulpit of the White House in terms of actually getting people to wake up and realize there’s options for them,” she said in a phone interview.

Obama appeared Dec. 8 on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” where he took the place of host Stephen Colbert for a regular segment called “The Word” — retitled “The Decree” for his appearance — to pitch enrollment to young viewers.

“Most young people can get covered for less than $100,” Obama said, using lines purportedly meant for Colbert. “How is the president going to get that message out to the kids? He could try to appeal to them directly through a speech or a press conference, but young people don’t watch real news shows like this one. They watch comedy shows, and I just don’t see the president going on one of those.”

The Congressional Budget Office, which has estimated the law’s impact on U.S. health insurance coverage, expects about 13 million people to be enrolled in private plans sold through government-run insurance exchanges next year. The Obama administration distanced itself from that projection in November, saying the law’s programs would take longer than the budget office expected to ramp up and that employers haven’t eliminated workers’ health benefits in the numbers once anticipated, which would have moved more people to the government’s marketplace.

New customers

Enroll America, a Washington-based group that organizes enrollment efforts in 11 states, planned about 600 local events to help people sign up last week, Anne Filipic, the group’s president, said in a phone interview.

In the first weekend enrollment began on Nov. 15, most customers were uninsured people, she said, rather than people who had first signed up last year.

“We’ve seen that really even out, and have seen more and more folks looking to renew their coverage,” Filipic said.

As a result, renewals may be less of a headache for the government than expected: Pearson said about 16% of current Affordable Care Act customers had already returned to Healthcare.gov to shop around before renewing their coverage, more than she or Levitt expected.

“I really expected very few people to come on the site and renew,” Levitt said in a phone interview. “So far it’s hundreds of thousands of people.” 

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