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It is now believed that seven-and-a-half million Americans have signed up for health insurance through state and federal marketplaces like Healthcare.gov. But that number does not include people buying plans directly from insurance companies and brokers.

As Alaska Public Radio Network's Annie Feidt reports, that could mean the sign-up numbers under Obamacare are even higher.

ANNIE FEIDT, BYLINE: When insurance broker Joshua Weinstein wanted to sign someone up for health insurance this year, he asked one key question: Would they qualify for a federal subsidy? If the client didn't, he steered them away from Healthcare.gov.

JOSHUA WEINSTEIN: If you can avoid that whole level of bureaucracy and get a good plan - not necessarily at a good price, but at the same price - and they're not subsidy eligible, we're going off the marketplace.

FEIDT: One of those clients is Oliver Korshin, of Anchorage. Weinstein and Korshin worked together to enroll Korshin's wife, Rachel, in a new health plan. She didn't qualify for a subsidy, so they went directly to Premera, Alaska, says Korshin.

OLIVER KORSHIN: The actual enrolling wasn't difficult at all.

FEIDT: Weinstein, their broker, estimates about 15 percent of his clients are signing up for insurance outside the exchanges. He says enrolling directly is easier, because insurers don't have to deal with the financial information required on Healthcare.gov.

WEINSTEIN: It's basically gathering demographic information: name, address, phone number, Social Security Number, which plan do you want, sign up for how you want to pay your bill - monthly via statement or auto-draft - and sign, and off you go.

FEIDT: Alaska's two main insurers report more than a fifth of their customers bought plans directly from them. But these customers aren't being counted by the Obama administration.

LARRY LEVITT: That's the big mystery.

FEIDT: Larry Levitt is an insurance expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation. Levitt says there's a lot of focus on the 7.5 million people who signed up through the 14 state exchanges or Healthcare.gov. But he says the off-exchange number is just as essential to gauge how well the law is working.

LEVITT: Oh, I think it's quite important. I mean, I think it's probably the case that there are more people insured in the individual market off the exchange than on the exchange right now.

FEIDT: In fact, a new survey from the RAND Corporation estimates 7.8 million people nationwide bought health insurance, between September and mid-March, directly from a carrier.

For NPR News, I'm Annie Feidt, in Anchorage.

GREENE: Annie's story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, Alaska Public Radio Network and Kaiser Health News.

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