Curtain Rises Wednesday on 'Obamacare'

New health insurance plans and consumer protections take effect Jan. 1 under the Affordable Care Act

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"The point of the program is to provide people with insurance," Larry Levitt, a senior vice president and co-director of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's program for the study of health reform and private insurance, said in a recent webinar for journalists. "So for the program ultimately to be a success, people who are currently uninsured and eligible for this coverage need to sign up."

But it doesn't need to happen in the first year, he added. "There are certainly many examples of new government programs that took quite a while to ramp up," he said.

"The mix of enrollment is much more important than the total number," Levitt explained.

Through Dec. 24, more than 1.1 million people had enrolled in private health plans through HealthCare.gov, the federal government disclosed Sunday. More than 975,000 of those enrollments came in December, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in a blog post.

Those figures do not reflect the number of people who have signed up for coverage through state-based marketplaces, operated in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Nor do they reflect the percentage of younger, healthier people who have signed up.

Another unknown: How many enrollees have actually paid for coverage? In most states, people who signed up for coverage effective Jan. 1 have until Jan. 10 to pay the first month's premium.

Through the end of November, 800,000-plus people have been deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, a government enrollment report indicated.

More information

What's changing in 2014? HealthCare.gov has a timeline of the health-care law.

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