Affordable Care Act navigators help people sign up for insurance at a hospital in San Antonio.
Eric Gay—AP
By Kara Brandeisky
February 5, 2016

The deadline to buy an Obamacare plan for 2016 passed on Sunday, and the results are in: A grand total of 12.7 million people either re-enrolled in a health plan or bought a new health plan through the marketplaces.

About 9.6 million bought plans on Healthcare.gov, run by the federal government; the rest bought plans on state-run marketplaces. And about 42% of the shoppers on Healthcare.gov bought an Obamacare plan for the first time.

This year, Americans didn’t procrastinate as much as they did in the past: 60% of enrollees signed up by Dec. 15 to get coverage starting on Jan. 1, up from just 40% last year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Plus, about 7 in 10 people who already had an Obamacare plan shopped around for a better deal this year.

“Open Enrollment for 2016 is over and we are happy to report it was a success,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.

Here’s how Obamacare works: The Affordable Care Act created government-run marketplaces, also called exchanges, where people without health insurance could shop for plans sold by private insurers. Health insurers cannot reject applicants because of their preexisting conditions and cannot put annual or lifetime caps on essential benefits. Most Americans who buy Obamacare plans qualify for a tax credit that covers part of the cost of their premiums.

Read More: How Obamacare Is Working — and How It’s Not

But generally, you can only buy these health plans once a year, during open enrollment. That’s because insurers want to prevent people from waiting until they’re sick to buy coverage. For 2016, open enrollment lasted from Nov. 1, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016. Next year’s open enrollment period will begin this fall (but the dates have not been finalized).

What to do if you missed the Jan. 31 deadline? Under some circumstances, you can qualify for a special open enrollment period. If you lose your health coverage, get married, have a baby, or have another “qualifying life event,” you may be able to buy a health plan in the two months after the life change. Check your eligibility at Healthcare.gov.

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