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More than 2 million enrolled under Obamacare

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — More than 2 million people have signed up so far for health coverage under Obamacare, officials said Tuesday in trying to put the best face forward before the controversial health care reforms fully kick in with the start of 2014.

The enrollment figure represented a big increase after the botched launch of the system in October, but Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was unable to say how many of the 2.1 million who enrolled have paid their first premium to ensure their policies take effect on Wednesday.

Sebelius and other officials also acknowledged the possibility of more potential problems, warning people to bring proof of coverage with them to their doctor or pharmacy, pay premiums when due and double-check with insurers that they are covered.

Under the reforms, Americans will be required to have health coverage or face a fine. Sebelius called the full implementation of reforms under the 2010 Affordable Care Act a new era in health insurance, noting they mean no denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions or other discriminatory practices such as charging women more than men.

“Starting tomorrow, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition,” Sebelius said on a conference call with journalists.

The Obamacare enrollment figure is below the target of 3 million originally set by the administration for the end of December, which is halfway through an initial six-month sign-up period under the law intended to help millions of previously uninsured Americans get coverage.

Overall, the administration hopes to enroll 7 million people by March 31 while also expanding eligibilty for Medicaid, the government health care program for the impoverished.

Sebelius said Tuesday that another 3.9 million people were eligible for coverage through expanded Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, but she was unable to specify how many have become new enrollees.

The botched rollout of the new marketplaces on October 1, when the website set up to handle the enrollment failed to work properly, damaged the sign-up process until the system began working better in early December.

Sebelius said the administration was “doing everything we can to help ensure a smooth transition period” for people getting new coverage.

Anticipating possible problems in the enrollment system, Sebelius also advised in her blog post that “if you thought you enrolled in health coverage but aren’t showing up in the system, call your insurance company directly.”

She also said people could contact the Obamacare call center for assistance.

Asked if the website woes in October and November could be due to attacks from outside by Obamacare opponents, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told reporters there were technological problems but no sign of hacking.

The health care reforms championed by President Barack Obama have become the defining issue of his presidency, with Republicans led by tea party conservatives trying to dismantle them while some Democrats appearing leery of campaigning on them in the November congressional elections.

While the Supreme Court ruled the mandate to obtain health coverage was constitutional, further legal challenges are being mounted.

On Tuesday, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent Obama a letter asking that religious institutions be exempted from fines under the reforms until the Supreme Court rules on cases involving birth control.

Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to review provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring some employers offer coverage for contraception without a co-pay.

At issue is whether private companies can refuse to do so on the basis that it violates religious beliefs.

“This mandate includes drugs and devices that can interfere with the survival of a human being in the earliest stage of development, burdening religious convictions on abortion as well as contraception,” said the letter by Archbishop of Louisville Joseph Kurtz.

“The result is a regulation that harshly and disproportionately penalizes those seeking to offer life-affirming health coverage in accord with the teachings of their faith,” Kurtz wrote.

By Jim Acosta and Tom Cohen, CNN

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