Good news on two fronts for President Barack Obama's health care law surfaced Thursday after health plan enrollment numbers reported by California and the White House wildly exceeded expectations.

Obama announced that 8 million Americans had signed up for plans, 1 million more than projected.

Meanwhile, a concerted, late-stage effort by California's health insurance exchange to expand outreach efforts, particularly in Latino communities, helped boost private health insurance sign-ups in the Golden State to almost 1.4 million.

That total exceeds the 830,000 target set by Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange, for the enrollment period by 570,000.

Additionally, almost 2 million Californians signed up for Medi-Cal, the state's health care program for the very poor, for a grand total of about 3.3 million new enrollees under both plans.

"It's great to be sharing with Californians and the nation a true and important market point in history," said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, during a Thursday morning news conference. "This has been a long time coming."

Obama, in an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room, noted that 35 percent of enrollees are under 35 years old, suggesting that in the final weeks of enrollment, the administration managed to sign up higher numbers of younger, healthier people, who are critical to the law's viability.


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Insurance industry experts say enrollment in this group needs to reach 40 percent to balance the risk pool of healthy and sick people in order to avoid premium increases next year. Because older people tend to need more health care, they are more expensive to insure.

"This thing is working," Obama said of the Affordable Care Act, his signature domestic achievement, often called Obamacare.

In California, young adults age 18 to 34 constituted 29 percent of those enrolled in private insurance plans.

The group represents about 25 percent of the state's population but about 36 percent of those who are eligible for subsidies. And about 36 percent of those newly enrolled in Medi-Cal are in the same age group.

Elsewhere, the state's Latino enrollment, which has been slower than exchange officials hoped, bumped up to 305,106, or 28 percent of the total enrollment. From the end of March through mid-April, Latino sign-ups increased at a rate of 30 percent.

Lee said the exchange surpassed the base projection in every racial demographic category.

Health care experts were thrilled with the state and national numbers.

"It's a Super Bowl moment, and Covered California and the president deserve to celebrate," said Gerald Kominski, a professor of health care policy at UCLA and director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Kominski and colleagues at UC Berkeley had assembled a series of projected enrollment numbers for Covered California through the six-month enrollment period that was extended from March 31 to Tuesday.

The professor pointed out that his group's estimate of 1.2 million enrollees receiving subsidies was on target: Of those enrolled in Covered California plans, 88 percent -- or 1.2 million -- are eligible for financial subsidies to help cover the cost of their premiums.

Separately, both he and Lee acknowledged room for improvement at the exchange, which was plagued by website glitches and long call-waiting times at its three service centers. Aggressive marketing to Latinos, a key demographic, wasn't addressed until the second half of the enrollment period. And the exchange's website list of which doctors accepted certain plans was so error-ridden it was taken down, leaving consumers confused and worried about the plans they had selected.

Experts agree that it remains to be seen whether or not the mix of enrollees will lead to premium hikes next year.

Much of that, they say, will depend on how often people use health care. And until surveys are completed by year's end, no one knows exactly how many of the enrollees were previously uninsured.

But even with those unresolved issues, Kominski called Thursday's figures "outstanding," saying they proved the naysayers wrong.

"Every Californian who has insurance this year who did not have it last year is better off," Kominski said. "Health insurance became more affordable, and guess what? People want that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-920-5343. Follow her at Twitter.com/taseipel.