By Jeffrey Young

The Huffington Post, 12/23/14 — Enrollments via the federally run Obamacare health insurance exchanges on surged leading up to a big deadline last week and reached almost 6.4 million after the first month of sign-ups, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday.

That tally, including about 1.9 million new customers and the automatic re-enrollments of millions more already covered by Obamacare plans, combined with more than 1 million sign-ups so far through the exchanges operated by 13 states and the District of Columbia, appears to put the program on target to surpass Burwell’s self-imposed target of 9.1 million total enrollments by the end of next year. The open enrollment period for health insurance policies purchased on these exchanges for 2015 started Nov. 15 and ends Feb. 15, 2015.

“This is an encouraging start,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a statement. “The law is working and families are better off as a result.”

Compared to the chaotic rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges in October 2013 that resulted in sluggish sign-ups for the first months of enrollment into 2014 health coverage, the second enrollment period is running remarkably smoothly at the federal and state level. That’s in spite of lingering technical issues and major public outreach and educational challenges facing exchange authorities and insurance companies seeking to usher existing customers through a potentially confusing renewal process while searching for millions of uninsured to sign up.

These private health insurance plan enrollments are in addition to the millions of people who have signed up for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program since last October. The Affordable Care Act broadens Medicaid access in states that elect to participate, but 22 states have not done so, leaving millions of low-income Americans uninsured.

Just 106,000 people managed to sign up during the first month of the inaugural enrollment period, while more than half a million chose policies during the first week of this year’s campaign.

The improvements at the federal level are mirrored in the states with their own insurance marketplaces. States with troubled exchanges last time around, including Maryland and Massachusetts, have rebounded, and other states still having technical problems, such as Minnesota, nevertheless are signing up consumers. The exchanges in the populous states of California and New York performed well during the first enrollment period and continue to enroll large numbers of residents.

“It definitely looks like it’s going to work,” Caroline Pearson, vice president of the health care reform practice at the consulting firm Avalere Health, said before the HHS announcement. “All signs are that the markets are working really effectively. You’ve got an increased insurer participation and very stable premiums,” she said. The average nationwide price increase for next year is 5.4 percent, but there’s a lot of variation and some premiums even went down, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.