REUTERS/Mike Segar

Earlier today, I wrote about the 476,000 applications that, according to the Associated Press, shoppers have filed on since the exchanges opened.

The Associated Press described these applications as having being "started." An administration official I -emailed with this afternoon thought it was more accurate to say these applications had been "submitted," and I found the explanation of why to be helpful in understanding how the whole shopping process works.

The way that this administration official described it, there are essentially three steps in applying for insurance through the marketplaces. The first is submitting an application that has information on income, state of residence, size of family and other personal details. It's essentially an online version of the paper application for families or individuals (or, for those not seeking financial help from the government, a simpler form).

The second step is eligibility verification: The federal government needs to check whether you qualify for the benefits you are seeking. They're checking to see whether your income might, for example, mean you qualify for Medicaid coverage or for a government subsidy to purchase a private insurance plan.

When that comes back, the process moves to step three: Shopping for a health insurance plan. This is the part where different options come up, and you're deciding which plan you actually want to buy.

The 476,000 shoppers that the Associated Press wrote about have submitted full applications, this administration official said. In that sense, they're done with the first step in the process. That being said, they're still at the start of the shopping process, with two more steps between where they are right now, and where they'd be after enrolling in a health plan.