The number of Americans who are potentially eligible for coverage under Obamacare visiting the health law’s marketplaces rose sharply as improvements were made to the online web portals, according to a new survey by the Commonwealth Fund. Furthermore, about six in ten potentially eligible Americans plan to enroll in a private marketplace plan or Medicaid by the end of the open enrollment season in March, and those who have already visited the marketplaces report being in good health — both crucial positive signs for the health law.
Just under one in five Americans who could gain coverage visited the marketplaces via Internet, phone, or in-person between October and December, according to the new report. A similar Commonwealth survey from October found that just 17 percent of potentially eligible Americans had visited the marketplaces.
About two in five of those who visited the marketplaces said they enrolled in a health plan. That number could rise substantially in the coming months, as just under six in ten adults who had either not visited a marketplace or visited one and not signed up for a plan said they plan to enroll by the end of March.
Strikingly, the survey finds that over 40 percent of Americans who have visited the marketplaces so far are between the ages of 19 and 34 — and 54 percent of visitors reported being in either “Excellent” or “Very Good” health:
CREDIT: Commonwealth Fund
That defies the conventional wisdom that the sickest and oldest Americans have been the first to flock to Obamacare’s marketplaces, and — if true — it’s critical for the nascent health law. Government officials and independent organizations like the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) have projected that approximately 40 percent of private plan enrollees need to be young or, more importantly, in good health in order to keep costs down and premiums from spiking in the marketplaces.
However, KFF has also projected that Obamacare marketplace premiums can survive low enrollment among young people. The organization reported that even a 50 percent lower-than-expected enrollment rate among the young and healthy — a worst-case scenario — would cause premiums to rise by just 2.4 percent next year, and that several backstop mechanisms built into the health law could further limit premium hikes.
The new survey isn’t all good news. Some visitors are still reporting problems with statewide marketplaces, and about 38 percent of visitors said they didn’t bother trying to find out if they’re eligible for public insurance via Medicaid or federal subsidies to help pay for their monthly premiums. That’s particularly important considering a pair of new issue briefs from the Urban Institute found that nearly two in three uninsured Americans didn’t buy an individual insurance policy — or even consider buying one — in the pre-Obamacare market due to the high costs of such plans.
“The data reaffirm the fact that cost is the major reason why people go without health insurance,” wrote Kathy Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in an email to reporters. “Outreach efforts need to highlight the availability of reasonably priced plans in the Marketplaces, and the existence of subsidies that help many people purchase plans.”