The Obama administration said Tuesday it's making steady progress on health care sign-ups, but the White House needs something close to a miracle to meet its goal of enrolling 6 million people by the end of this month.
It could happen with a sustained surge in consumer demand and a foolproof website. But they're not seeing it yet, and time is running out.
The Department of Health and Human Services said more than 940,000 people signed up during February for private coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law, bringing total sign-ups to 4.2 million.
But with open enrollment ending March 31, that means to meet the goal, another 1.8 million people would have to sign up by the end of the month, an average of about 60,000 a day.
That's way above the daily averages for January and February, which have ranged between 33,000 and 34,000. The math seems to be going against the administration.
Officials expect the pace to pick up. The big question is whether it will be enough to make up for the technical troubles that paralyzed HealthCare.gov much of last fall and the continuing challenges for several state-sponsored websites.
The goal of 6 million sign-ups is itself a lower bar than was originally set. The Congressional Budget Office scaled back its original target of 7 million because of the federal website's computer problems. HealthCare.gov serves 36 states, while 14 states and Washington, D.C., are running their own sites.
The 943,000 enrolled in February fell short of the target of 1.27 million that HHS initially set for the month.
And the cumulative total of 4.2 million sign-ups is just three-fourths of the 5.65 million that HHS originally projected would sign up by the end of February. Those estimates were contained in a Sept. 5, 2013 departmental memo to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The numbers released Tuesday still don't say how many of those signing up were previously uninsured, which is the ultimate test of Obama's health care overhaul. And they don't say how many consumers have sealed the deal by paying their premiums.
Separately, a Gallup survey released Monday found that the share of Americans without health insurance has been going down so far this year, albeit modestly.
Among the highlights of Tuesday's federal report:
• Young adults seemed to be showing a little more interest in signing up. Of those signing up in February, 27 percent were between the ages of 18-34. Their premiums are needed to help defray the cost of caring for older generations. Cumulatively, people ages 55-64 are the leading group among those signing up, accounting for 30 percent of total enrollment.
• More than four out of five who have enrolled thus far were eligible for tax credits to help offset the cost of premiums, and in some cases also to reduce their deductibles and copayments.
• 55 percent of those signing up are women, and 45 percent are men.
An AP analysis of state-by-state enrollment numbers showed 13 states are running ahead of their enrollment targets. Virginia, with a new Democratic governor who supports the health care law, was the latest addition to that list. Six of the top-performing states are led by Republican governors: Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
Some states that have run into trouble have reduced their enrollment goals. But based on the original HHS enrollment targets, the five at the bottom are Massachusetts, Washington, D.C, Oregon, New Mexico, and Nevada.