WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Thursday said 7.3 million people were up to date on their monthly premiums for private health plans under President Barack Obama's healthcare law as of Aug. 15.
Republicans have long sought the number of Obamacare enrollees who have paid premiums as potential evidence that the administration's initial enrollment figures were exaggerated.
The figure, which administration officials stressed was not an estimate of actual enrollment, could show that lower-income Obamacare enrollees are proving better than initially expected at retaining private health coverage acquired through new insurance marketplaces set up in all 50 states.
"We are encouraged by the number of consumers who paid their premiums," Marilyn Tavenner, a top U.S. healthcare official, said in testimony before a congressional oversight panel.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this year that 8 million people had signed up for 2014 coverage during an open enrollment period that ended in April. Officials and independent experts speculated that 80 percent to 85 percent, or 6.4 million to 6.8 million people, would actually make premium payments.
The 7.3 million figure would represent a 91 percent premium payment rate. It is also a larger number than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's enrollment forecast of 6 million for the Obamacare marketplace.
But HHS officials cautioned against comparisons with earlier estimates, saying marketplace enrollment fluctuates in time as people change jobs, marry or experience other life-changing events.
The administration had no overall enrollment estimate but said the number would probably be higher than 7.3 million because of enrollees who might have made monthly payments after Aug. 15.
Thursday's figure also did not include people who enrolled in a marketplace plan and either failed to pay their premiums or paid but then discontinued coverage, according to the administration.
The administration released the data during a heated committee hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republican lawmakers criticized Tavenner about security issues surrounding HealthCare.gov, the online portal for a federal Obamacare marketplace that serves consumers in 36 states.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)