Insurance enrollment making up for the health care exchange's early problems but much work remains.

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WASHINGTON — More than 4.2 million people have now signed up for private health insurance through the state and federal exchanges, Health and Human Services officials announced Tuesday.

"What we're finding is that as more Americans find just how affordable marketplace insurance can be, more are enrolling," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "There's still time for others to sign up. They'll want to do it today, before that March 31 deadline."

The latest statistics show the gulf between the original estimate of 7 million new customers from the Congressional Budget Office and how many people have come forward to comply with the requirement that those without insurance buy it or pay a fine.

They also provide mixed messages in terms of who is buying insurance and how quickly. For example, 942,000 people signed up for private plans in February, a drop from 1,146,000 in January. That's about 3,300 a day fewer in February.

But a higher percentage of younger people between the ages of 18 and 34 — 27% — enrolled in insurance last month, an increase from 24% in the first three months the exchanges were open. The more younger, healthier enrollees the better, insurance experts believe, because they pay more in premiums than they cost in health care expenses.

The numbers also show people are choosing heftier, silver-level plans than originally expected: About 63% of enrollees chose silver plans, while 18% chose the less-expensive bronze plans. Another 11% chose gold, 6% chose platinum and 1% picked bare-bones catastrophic plans. About 83% were eligible for financial help paying their premiums.

As expected, more women have signed up than men, with women making up 55% of the total and men making up 45%.

The Obama administration is still digging out of the hole created by the HealthCare.gov's flawed opening Oct. 1, when millions of potential customers could not navigate the site because of multiple flaws that weren't fixed until Nov. 30. Those problems were why the CBO reduced its estimate for new customers to 6 million.

President Obama and his aides have stepped up their promotion of the exchanges and the need to enroll in insurance. Last week, Obama conducted a town hall meeting with Latino-oriented TV networks. On Tuesday, the White House touted an online interview Obama made with actor Zach Galifianakis to promote enrollment.

Follow @KellySKennedy on Twitter.

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