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BREAKING: What The Newest Obamacare Numbers Mean For The Health Law

By Sy Mukherjee  

"BREAKING: What The Newest Obamacare Numbers Mean For The Health Law"

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Health Care News Guide

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jon Elswick

The Obama administration released new data Monday on the people who enrolled in health plans through the Affordable Care Act between October and December, the first half of Obamacare’s six month open enrollment period. For the first time, the administration included information on enrollees’ gender and age — the latter of which is particularly significant for how well the health law functions.

Nearly 2.2 million Americans have now enrolled in health plans through Obamacare’s marketplaces — 1.2 million through the federal portal and over 950,000 through the 14 state-based marketplaces. An additional 3.9 million Americans were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) between October and December, with a sizable portion likely eligible for the first time thanks to the health law’s optional Medicaid expansion.

During a conference call with reporters, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that about one in four Americans who have picked plans are between the ages of 18 and 34. That’s compared to about 33 percent who are above 55, and 37 percent who are somewhere in between.

Independent organizations like the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) have projected that just under 40 percent of people who eventually sign up through the marketplaces will have to be young — or, more precisely, healthy — in order for premiums and costs to remain stable in the insurance risk pools. The figures from the first three months of open enrollment don’t quite clear that benchmark, which may spur concerns over spiraling premiums in Obamacare’s new marketplaces.

However, White House officials noted that enrollment under former Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R-MA) analogous health law didn’t spike until the very end of the enrollment period, and that older and sicker people are more likely to have flocked to the marketplaces in the early months. Young, healthy enrollment in Massachusetts didn’t truly spike until several months after the halfway point of its open enrollment season:

chron ill graph

The young and healthy may actually be signing up for Obamacare plans at a faster rate than they did under Massachusetts’ health law during a comparable period. As the functionality of the online portals improved, young people began enrolling in Obamacare at a faster rate than the general population in December. According to the newest enrollment report, there was an over eight-fold increase for young adults enrolling in December, compared to October and November:

obamacare youth 2

CREDIT: Department of Health and Human Services

On a similar note, the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff pointed out that Colorado, which has been keeping more detailed information on consumers’ age, found enrollment among young people has been increasing steadily from month to month. And a Commonwealth Fund tracking survey of Americans who have visited the marketplaces but may or may not have enrolled in a plan found that 41 percent were 19-34, 54 percent were in “Excellent” or “Very Good” health, and that six in ten of them plan to enroll by the end of March.

Even under the worst case scenario, where younger enrollment simply remains at the level it’s at right now, KFF has projected that premiums would rise by a modest 2.4 percent at most, and could rise at an even lower level thanks to built-in Affordable Care Act stabilizers meant to ease the transition into a post-Obamacare insurance industry.

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