With two months left to sign up for an insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act this year, there are likely hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians who remain uninsured.

For more information

Shop for a private insurance plan on the federal government's health insurance marketplace online, www.healthcare.gov, by phone, 1-800-318-2596, or by calling a local insurance agent.

To read more of The Post and Courier's past coverage of the Affordable Care Act, visit www.postandcourier.com/obamacare.

After March 31 - assuming the deadline doesn't change - most consumers will need to wait until Nov. 15 for another chance to sign up for a plan under Obamacare. Even then, coverage purchased on or after Nov. 15 won't start until 2015.

"It's been a huge shift from where we were Oct. 1 to where we are now," said Shelli Quenga, a certified application counselor in Mount Pleasant. "We really are able to help people with their enrollments now in ways that we envisioned but couldn't fulfill in October."

Despite the botched launch of HealthCare.gov, the federal government said in mid-January that 24,000 South Carolinians were able to enroll in a policy on the health insurance exchange between Oct. 1 and late December - relatively few compared with the total number of uninsured in this state.

The U.S. Census estimates that more than 700,000 residents here have no health insurance. Many will face at least a $95 penalty if they don't enroll by March 31.

But signing them all up by the end of March isn't likely, Quenga said.

"I don't think anyone thought that everyone who is eligible would enroll. That's not possible," she said. "We hope that (enrollment) continues to snowball. Maybe I shouldn't say snowball in this weather, but we hope that it will continue to pick up."

While the federal government labels the 24,000 residents as newly "enrolled," it's unclear how many actually have gained coverage under Obamacare. Many of them haven't paid anything toward their first month's premium.

"Under the Affordable Care Act, you can sign up pretty easily, but your coverage doesn't actually become effective until you pay your first month's premium," said Adrian Grimes, a spokeswoman for Consumer's Choice Health Plan, one of four companies selling policies to South Carolina residents on HealthCare.gov.

Grimes said she could not release any specific enrollment data for Consumer's Choice Health Plan on Thursday.

"The issue with our enrollment data is we can really only count people who have paid their first month's premium," she said. "All of that is being hashed out at the moment, which makes all of the data very fluid."

Grimes said the number of people who have chosen a Consumer's Choice Health Plan policy is vastly different than the number who have actually paid for one.

"That kind of fluidity and chaos has not been our experience," said Patti Embry-Tautenhan, a spokeswoman for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, which also is offering plans on the federal exchange. "In fact, nearly 90 percent of our new business has enrolled and paid premiums. That percentage has increased over time."

Embry-Tautenhan also declined to release any specific enrollment data for the company on Thursday.

S.C. Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer said his agency doesn't rely on the federal government's numbers.

Enrollment data provided directly by the insurance companies to the agency shows that 21,157 South Carolina residents selected a plan on the exchange between Oct. 1 and Jan. 17 and paid for the coverage. Farmer said that's less than 60 percent of the population that the federal government would consider "enrolled."

"There are a lot of people who are still uninsured, so I don't over the next two months think we'll see a groundswell," Farmer said. "It will be an interesting next 60 days."

There are a few exceptions to the March 31 open enrollment deadline. Qualifying life events - things like having a baby, getting married or moving to another state - make you eligible to sign up for insurance between open enrollment periods.

Enrollment in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program for low-income individuals and families is open all year.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.