By Phil Galewitz
Tue, Mar 11 2014
About 4.2 million Americans have signed up for private health plans through the end of February via the online insurance marketplaces established by the federal health law -- with enrollment jumping by nearly 1 million people last month, the Obama administration said Tuesday.
But the number of young adults signing up over the past five months continues to lag expectations, which could impact insurance premiums next year. Insurance industry officials have been closely watching the mix of customers to make sure they get enough healthy people to balance the cost of covering older Americans who generally require more medical care.
About a quarter of people signing up for coverage through February were between the ages of 18 and 34 in the 36 states served by the federal marketplace — the same percentage as in the January enrollment report, officials said. That compares to a benchmark of 40 percent on which insurers based their premiums for policies sold in the exchanges this year. It’s unclear what impact this may have on premiums in 2015.
Gary Cohen, a top Health and Human Services official, said he is pleased with the number of young adults buying policies. He said he believes insurers will have enough of them to balance the insurance pools and, coupled with other financial protections in the law, they won’t have to significantly raise premiums for 2015.
But others were critical. "It seems the president's push to enroll young adults is far too little, too late," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. "Young adults – those who the White House repeatedly said are critical – are deciding the health care law is a bad deal."
The report showed many people who have started the enrollment process have not completed it: 8.7 million people have been deemed eligible to sign up for marketplace plans.
Obamacare supporters are counting on a huge spurt in sign-ups this month before open enrollment for 2014 closes on March 31. Both the president and first lady are making pitches to boost enrollment at events and ads targeted to young people are running on popular television shows.
The administration has added 2,000 people to handle telephone queries, so it now has about 14,000 representatives at its call centers. There are also more than 27,000 people trained to help get people enrolled, said HHS spokeswoman Julie Bataille.
Overall, enrollment is up 90 percent in the first two months of this year, but that rate varies widely by state, according to HHS’ enrollment report. Florida saw a 180 percent increase and Texas 149 percent. California had a 74 percent increase this year, enrolling a total of almost 900,000 people. New York was up 56 percent, enrolling a total of 245,000 people.