FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Federal health officials began quietly urging counselors around the country this week to stop using paper applications to enroll people in insurance under the health overhaul because of concerns those applications would not be processed in time.

They'd previously encouraged alternate sign-up methods amid the fumbled rollout of their online insurance website.

Enrollment counselors operating in several states, insurance brokers and a government official who works with navigators in Illinois say in interviews this week that federal officials are now encouraging them not to use paper applications.

Consumers must sign up for health insurance by Dec. 23 in order for coverage to start in January. Federal health officials now say paper applications should be a method of last resort.

Instead, they want consumers to complete applications online or by phone.