(Adds fresh quotes from analysts and details on New York state
and federal marketplaces)
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON Jan 13 The new private health plans
available under Obamacare drew in fewer young and healthy
Americans than needed for the administration to make healthcare
reform a market success in the first wave of enrollment, an
official report showed on Monday.
Twenty-four percent of the 2.2 million people who signed up
for private coverage between Oct. 1 and Dec. 28 belonged to a
target audience of 18- to 34-year-olds, according to the first
administration report to provide a demographic breakdown on
enrollment in the new plans offered under President Barack
Obama's healthcare law.
That compares with a target of closer to 38 percent set
before the program's botched Oct. 1 rollout, when administration
officials believed that about 2.7 million of a forecast 7
million enrollees for 2014 would be between 18 and 35.
Younger enrollees tend to be healthy and are needed to help
offset the cost of covering older, sicker consumers, because
Obamacare prohibits insurers from charging sick people higher
rates and limits the cost premium they can assign to older
Health policy experts say the administration may still get
closer to that ratio by the time enrollment closes at the end of
March, when more young Americans are expected to sign up to
avoid the law's penalty for not having any coverage.
"It looks like they are on target to net enrollment
somewhere around 6 to 7 million people, if current trends
continue," said Dan Mendelson of the consulting firm Avalere
Administration officials pointed to Monday's data as an
encouraging start, particularly given the technology failures
that stalled access to the federal enrollment website
HealthCare.gov in October and November.
"We are confident, based on the results we have now, that
we'll have an appropriate mix of individuals enrolled in
coverage," said Mike Hash, health reform director at the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services.
A failure to improve on the numbers could lead insurers to
raise prices next year, strengthening the position of Republican
opponents who claimed that Monday's low enrollment number showed
the program is too expensive and too limited for younger adults.
"There's no way to spin it: youth enrollment has been a bust
so far. When they see that Obamacare offers high costs for
limited access to doctors - if the enrollment goes through at
all - it's no surprise that young people aren't rushing to sign
up," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House of Representatives
Speaker John Boehner, a Republican.
Data released on Monday showed the vast majority of
enrollees were benefiting from federal subsidies, which can help
pay premiums and out of pocket expenses, not only in the 36
states served by the federal government but also in New York -
one of the largest states to operate its own health insurance
New York state said in its report that the Obamacare plans
available to residents are 53 percent less expensive on average
than coverage purchased directly from insurers last year.
About 30 percent of the 230,624 New Yorkers who enrolled in
a health plan as of Dec. 24, are under the age of 35.
New York offered demographic data that the Obama
administration has yet to produce, saying that about 44 percent
of new enrollees were uninsured when they applied for coverage
with the largest portion - 62 percent - among those with the
"These enrollment figures are encouraging for this stage in
the process, especially with all the early systems problems they
experienced," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family
Foundation. "We're at half-time in the open enrollment period,
and I would expect larger numbers of young people to enroll in
the second half."
Senior administration officials said that younger adult
enrollment surged eight-fold in December when HealthCare.gov was
working relatively smoothly for the 36 states it serves. They
expect the number to grow strongly in the remaining three months
as the government ramps up its public outreach campaign.
"The numbers show that there is a very strong national
demand for affordable healthcare made possible by the Affordable
Care Act," said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary
More than 9 million people have now gained coverage under
the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, administration
In addition to the private insurance plans, nearly 4 million
people have qualified for the Medicaid program for the poor,
while 3 million people in their early 20s are now allowed to
remain on their parents' plans.
The data showed that more women than men (54 percent versus
46 percent) have signed up for health coverage under Obamacare.
About 80 percent of enrollees, both in New York state and in
the 36-state federal marketplace also opted for "silver" and
"bronze" plans, categories that offer lower premiums but higher
deductibles, a development that analysts said could encourage
more employers to consider similarly configured plans for their
workers down the road.
A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation said
having younger adults make up only 25 percent of enrollees would
present a "worst case" scenario. They found that costs then
would be about 2.4 percent higher, but insurers would retain a
very slim profit margin.
As a result, the Kaiser authors projected the companies
would raise premiums by a commensurate amount, but not enough to
destabilize the market.
(Additional reporting by Sharon Begley, Susan Cornwell and
Roberta Rampton; editing by Michele Gershberg and Sandra Maler)