U.S. government sees 1 million more people on Obamacare exchanges in 2017

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Health and Human Services Department estimates that 1 million more people will sign up for health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges for 2017 compared with 2016, a department official told reporters on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, created online exchanges where consumers can shop for individual health insurance and receive income-based subsidies. The exchanges opened in 2014 with insurance for sale by major companies including Aetna Inc and Anthem Inc.

But enrollment has been about half of what was initially expected and some large insurers this year have said they were losing too much money on the exchanges because of that and the fact that enrollees are older and sicker than expected. Aetna and UnitedHealth Group have largely pulled out of the exchanges for 2017.

“This is essentially a status quo projection, with expected growth in enrollment matching what happened this year. That strikes me as reasonable, not too pessimistic, not too optimistic,” Kaiser Family Foundation healthcare researcher Larry Levitt said.

There is upheaval now as exchanges head into enrollment, he said, referring to bigger premium increases than in previous years and insurers exiting the market. Any enrollment growth would be a good signal to insurers, Levitt added.

The health department said it expects 2017 sign-ups of 13.8 million people versus 12.7 million for 2016. Average monthly enrollment in 2017 is estimated at 11.4 million people, up from 10.5 million people in 2016, the official said.

Separately, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told reporters that there are 10.7 million uninsured people who are eligible for the exchanges but unenrolled, and about 40 percent of those are young, she said. More enrollees in that group, aged 18 to 34, could help balance out insurer costs because they typically have lower health costs.

Additional reporting and writing by Caroline Humer in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Andrew Hay