But the initial enrollment report lessens the fears "that this could be a real bust," Pollitz said. The sickest often sign up early while healthy people wait until the end of the enrollment period to decide.
In Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam's opposition to the repeal helped elect him governor, according to Public Policy Polling, which conducted the survey in the Virginia race.
"All this discussion about repeal made people aware that, 'Wow, I should be grateful for what I have access to,"' said Len Nichols, director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "There's just way more consciousness to the value of health insurance than before they tried to repeal it."
One of Trump's efforts to starve the law may have enticed some people to sign up. The president cut off funding for insurer subsidies under the Affordable Care Act that are meant to help low-income people cover health care costs, a move that caused insurers to raise premiums even more.
Because of how the law is written, the government was forced to increase the financial help it provides lower-income people to buy insurance. That meant that for some people, the amount they have to pay to buy coverage is lower than last year.
An analysis by the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress found "hundreds of scenarios" in which consumers could get coverage free. For example, a single 27-year-old who earns $25,000 a year could find coverage that would cost nothing in more than a quarter of 2,722 counties the group examined.
Low-income people have "really been very motivated about by being able to get insurance at no cost," Avalere's Mendelson said. The quirk doesn't benefit higher-income people, who will have to choose between paying higher premiums or forgoing coverage.
Officials in New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and California, which operate their own Obamacare marketplaces instead of relying on the federal sign-up system, also said early enrollment numbers are higher than last year.
In Maryland enrollments doubled to 10,000 in the first six days, said Andrew Ratner, chief marketing officer for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. That counts new enrollees and returning customers who logged in to change plans.
In Washington, the state's exchange said new enrollments were up by more than 50 percent. In Massachusetts, enrollment is up by 31 percent over last year through Nov. 9, Jason Lefferts, spokesman for the state insurance marketplace, said an email.
At CareSource, which sells policies in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and West Virginia, overall sign-ups are higher than during the same period last year, said Steve Ringel, president of the health insurer's Ohio market, exceeding projections.
The controversy around the ACA and attempts to repeal it "definitely has heightened awareness, and that heightened awareness has been a positive," Ringel said. "Those consumers who are subsidized are finding very affordable care and options."
(Edney reported from Washington and Tozzi from New York)
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