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Covered California enrollment slowed in second half of February

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

About 40,000 Californians signed up for health insurance through the state's Covered California marketplace in the second half of February, a slower rate than in the first half of that month, according to data released Tuesday by the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

As of March 1, 868,963 Californians had signed up for a health plan since open enrollment began on October 1st, 2013, HHS said. About 100,000 of them had enrolled in the first half of February - more than double the number who enrolled during the second half of the month.

Officials expect the pace of enrollment to pick up significantly in March, as the March 31st deadline for open enrollment nears.

Covered California officials are scheduled to releas more enrollment information on Thursday, including a more detailed demographic breakdown of the state's numbers.

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HHS said that 88 percent of the Californians who signed up through March 1st - about 763,000 people - were eligible for federal subsidies or other premium assistance.  Covered California had set a goal of up to 700,000 subsidy eligible enrollees by the end of open enrollment. 

As of March 1, 26 percent of those who signed up in California were in the coveted 18 to 34 age group; that's the same percentage as in February, according to HHS. Members of this age group are considered essential to the success of the Affordable Care Act because they are typically healthier, which is key to helping keep down insurance costs.

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Some economists have estimated that 18-to-34-year-olds need to make up about 35 to 40 percent of enrollees to help keep overall costs down.  

Nationally, 25 percent of those who have enrolled so far are between the ages of 18 and 34.

The overall number of Americans who signed up for health insurance in February slowed slightly in comparison with January. HHS data showed that 942,000 Americans enrolled last month, compared with more than 1.1 million who enrolled in January.

Altogether, more than 4.2 million Americans have selected health plans since open enrollment began, HHS said. The federal government's revised goal is to have six million people enrolled by March 31st.

It remains unclear how many of those who have enrolled so far were previously uninsured. 

Most Americans who do not sign up for health insurance by March 31st face a tax penalty of up to one percent of their income.