Antonio Galis, an insurance agent from Sunshine Life and Health Advisors in Florida, goes over available health insurance plans with a client earlier this month. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The number of people shopping for medical insurance on the Spanish-language version of HealthCare.gov is lagging behind last year's interest, even as the Obama administration urges Hispanics to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Federal figures released Wednesday show that about 153,000 people used cuidadodesalud.gov during the first three weeks of the current enrollment season for ACA health plans, down from 244,000 during the same period a year ago.

The enrollment snapshot for the week ending Nov. 21 also indicates that the federal insurance exchange continues to have greater difficulty in attracting new customers than last fall. Overall, the 1.6 million people who have chosen new health plans so far exceeds the comparable number from 2014. But 35 percent of them are newcomers, down from 48 percent at this point a year ago. That equates to 576,000 newcomers who have selected health plans – nearly 90,000 fewer than last year.

The latest snapshot, part of a weekly series being issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, provides an early view of the 2016 ACA enrollment period. The three-month season began Nov. 1 and continues through January, but people who want coverage when the new year begins must sign up by Dec. 15. Current customers who have not chosen a health plan by then will be automatically renewed in the same plan – or a similar one if theirs will not continue. Federal officials have cautioned that customers could face sticker shock if they do not shop for the most economical plan available in their area for the coming year.

[Rate hikes widespread for popular HealthCare.gov insurance]

The decline in use of the Spanish-language version of the online exchange system comes despite federal outreach efforts focusing on 10.5 million uninsured residents who are eligible for coverage under the health-care law. Hispanics make up a disproportionate share of this targeted population, and the administration is targeting its marketing and outreach efforts in several areas, including communities in Florida and Texas with large Hispanic populations.

ACA ads intended to persuade Hispanics to sign up for coverage are being aired in both Spanish and English, in part because recent research has shown that many prefer English.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has predicted that reaching new customers will be more difficult this enrollment season. Eligible people who are still uninsured have already ignored or rejected two previous opportunities to buy coverage through the marketplaces created under the health-care law.

And while the penalty for remaining uninsured will become stiffer next year -- $695 per person, or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater -- HHS is predicting that the number of people paying for ACA health plans will increase only marginally to about 10 million by the end of 2016.

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