Obamacare Gained More Young Adults in January, U.S. Says

Obamacare health plans enrolled 3.3 million people through January, with young adult participants increasing 65 percent from a month earlier, the U.S. government said.

Private health plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enrolled 807,515 people ages 18 to 34 as of Jan. 31, an increase of 318,055 since December, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said yesterday in a report. The age group made up about 25 percent of those who had signed up for health coverage through January, the report found.

The Obama administration has focused its outreach on young Americans, hoping to reduce the proportion of sick people enrolled in health exchange plans. Television ads featuring former basketball star Magic Johnson are airing during National Basketball Association games, and celebrities including Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine have been recruited to promote the law.

“These encouraging trends show that more Americans are enrolling every day, and finding quality, affordable coverage in the marketplace,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

The Congressional Budget Office lowered its projection for enrollment by 1 million people this month, following the troubled introduction in October of healthcare.gov, the federal government’s insurance website. The budget agency now expects 6 million people to sign up by March 31 when the 2014 enrollment period closes.

January slowdown

Fewer people enrolled in private plans in January than in December, HHS data show. About 1.8 million people selected plans in December, before coverage took effect Jan. 1. About 1.1 million people signed up in January, the government said.

California continues to lead the nation in enrollment, with 728,086 people selecting a plan by the end of January. The report didn’t include information on how many people have paid their first month’s premium, the final step required to complete enrollment.

“The latest data show that exchange enrollment continues to rebound following early technological problems, although progress is uneven across states,” said Caroline Pearson, vice president at Avalere Health LLC, a Washington-based consultant. “The question remains if the final enrollment surge at the end of March will make up the ground lost in October and November.”

The demographic mix of enrollees is important for insurers who must cover everyone regardless of their age or whether they have a pre-existing health issue. The greater number of younger and healthier enrollees, the easier it is for insurers to cover the cost of those who are older and sicker.

Meeting Expectations

WellPoint Inc. (WLP) Chief Executive Officer Joseph Swedish said Jan. 29 that the customers enrolling in the company’s exchange plans were “consistent with our expectations. We do feel good about what we’ve seen thus far in the exchanges.” Indianapolis-based WellPoint in the second-biggest U.S. health insurer.

WellPoint said that 500,000 exchange customers had selected its plans, the most that any publicly traded company has reported.

Sebelius said yesterday that about 9.6 million Americans now have coverage under the health law, including new purchasers of private plans and people who enrolled in government health programs. Medicaid, the state-run program for low-income people, has been expanded in 25 states under the law to cover adults earning close to poverty wages.

Increased Coverage

About 48 million Americans were uninsured in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Gallup Inc. reported that about 16 percent of Americans older than age 18 were uninsured in January, the lowest proportion the firm has measured in five years.

“The uninsured rate appears to be on track to drop to the lowest quarterly level measured since 2008,” the polling company said yesterday in a statement. The survey “may suggest that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for most Americans to have health insurance, which took effect on Jan. 1, is responsible for the decline,” Gallup said.

The Affordable Care Act marks the biggest expansion of health care in the U.S. since Medicare, the medical plan for the elderly, and Medicaid were adopted in 1965. The law created government-run insurance exchanges where Americans can buy health plans with government tax credits to reduce monthly premiums. Individuals must be covered by March 31 or face penalties.

The administration earlier this week delayed until 2016 a requirement that employers with 50 to 99 workers provide health insurance. Larger companies with 100 or more employees will have to cover 70 percent of their workforce, rather than 95 percent, starting in 2015.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Wayne in Washington at awayne3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.