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Public exchange sign-ups top last year’s total

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(Bloomberg) — About 8.3 million people have signed up for health coverage through the public health insurance exchange enrollment system this year, officials said Tuesday.

The new total includes many, but not all, of the people who have had coverage in 2015 and are on track to let their coverage renew automatically in 2016, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

See also: PPACA sign-ups rise to 6 million after deadline extended

At about the same point in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) open enrollment period last year, 6.4 million people had signed up for 2015 coverage in the states.

The new figures include results as of Dec. 19 for the 38 states that use the system. The figures do not include the people who are signing up for PPACA exchange coverage in California, New York and other states with their own state-run enrollment systems. The figures also exclude enrollment in the off-exchange market.

In states, the enrollment deadline for exchange coverage that starts Jan. 1 was Dec. 17. The CMS report is the most comprehensive accounting to come out since the enrollment period for Jan. 1-start date coverage expired.

Sign-ups this year are an important indication of how President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is faring ahead of the 2016 presidential election. They’re also a bellwether for hospital and health insurance stocks: Investors are closely tracking the figures to see how many new paying customers those businesses can expect.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the parent of CMS, has said that about 9.9 million people will probably be enrolled in PPACA exchange plans by the end of 2016, compared with a projected 9.1 million at the close of 2015. That modest gain has disappointed some investors and contributed to a slump this year in hospital chains such as Tenet Healthcare Corp. (NYSE:THC) and Community Health Systems Inc. (NYSE:CYH).

While sign-ups for 2016 coverage are running ahead of last year’s total, the figures aren’t directly comparable. Last year’s sign-up period began two weeks later, and an additional state, Hawaii, is using the federal exchange this year.

See also: Effects of Jan. 1 coverage enrollment extension unclear

Last week, CMS said that about 6 million people had signed up for individual health plans as of Dec. 17. That figure did not include people whose coverage was automatically renewed.

The open enrollment period for 2016 started Nov. 1 and is set to end Jan. 31.

People can still sign up for coverage that begins Feb. 1 or March 1.

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