"Folks didn't know a whole lot about this [the Affordable Care Act] back in October and November when it started," said Michael Morrisey, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Lister Hill Center for Health Policy.
An uptick in enrollment in recent weeks reflects "both people getting down to business and realizing that they're supposed to get coverage and that the penalties (for not having insurance) are meaningful," Morrisey said.
With some exceptions, people who are uninsured for most of 2014 may have to pay a penalty during next year's tax season. The maximum penalty for 2014 is $95 per adult and half of that for children (up to $285 for a family of three or more) -- or up to 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater.
One of the main objectives of the Affordable Care Act is expanding access to affordable health care options. The law led to the creation of the online marketplaces, or exchanges, where people in each state and the District of Columbia may compare health plans and sign up for coverage.
The Congressional Budget Office initially projected that 7 million people would sign up for health coverage in 2014. It later lowered its estimate to 6 million.
In 2012, an estimated 47 million Americans were uninsured, 2 million fewer than in 2010, according to a report released Tuesday by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports independent health care research. The reduction was likely due to a provision of the health reform law allowing many young adults to stay on their parents' insurance plans up to age 26, the report said.
Yet many uninsured people remain on the sidelines with the deadline for coverage approaching. Forty-eight percent of the uninsured aren't planning to look into the marketplaces or are unaware of them, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported.
"People seem to have a hard time believing that they're going to be eligible for the financial assistance that's available," said Katherine Hempstead, team director and senior program officer at the foundation. Other people aren't interested because they think their uninsured status will change as soon as they find a job, she said.