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Obamacare signups lag among the young

By Crissinda Ponder · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Posted: 4 pm ET

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans who have enrolled in health plans through the Obamacare exchanges are between the ages of 18 and 34, the Obama administration announced Monday.

The number of young and healthy enrollees -- 24 percent -- is well below the estimated share of 40 percent that the government's insurance marketplace is said to need to subsidize the cost of insuring older and sicker enrollees.

Who's signing up?

The latest Department of Health and Human Services report is the first of its kind because it provides demographic data about Obamacare enrollees. Some of the highlighted statistics include:

  • More than 2.1 million people have selected plans through Dec. 28, 2013.
  • Of those enrollees, 46 percent are male, 54 percent are female.
  • 60 percent selected silver plans, which typically cover 70 percent of medical care costs.
  • 79 percent will receive tax credits that lower the cost of their premium.

Age distribution of marketplace plan selections

Comparison of the age distribution of marketplace plan selections (SBM & FFM) for the three month period: 10-1-13 to 12-28-13 (based on data reported as of 1-9-14) Percent of total individuals who have selected a marketplace plan1
Age < 18 6%
Age 18-25 9%
Age 26-34 15%
Age 35-44 15%
Age 45-54 22%
Age 55-64 33%
Age ≥ 6511 0%
Total 100%
Ages 18 to 34 24%

1 These percentages are based on the total number of plan selections for which the applicable data are available, excluding plan selections with unknown data for age.

11 There are nearly 400,000 uninsured persons over the age of 65; some persons over 65 have selected Marketplace plans.

Source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as of 1-9-2014.

Republicans see 'Ponzi scheme'

Republicans maintain that the Affordable Care Act is failing, and the latest numbers add fuel to the fire.

The report is an indication that the law "continues to receive a less-than-enthusiastic response from the American people," especially young adults, says Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.

"It should come as no surprise that America's young people have recognized the Obamacare Ponzi scheme for what it is -- a failure," Huelskamp says in a statement. "At least Ponzi schemes are voluntary. What they are finding is 'free health care' isn't so free."

Advocacy group says the kids are all right

Young people are taking their time and weighing their options, says Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles, a health care reform advocacy group.

"We saw, in that HHS report, just a huge surge of people in December, suggesting that 24 percent is just the beginning of where we're going to be when it comes to young adults," he says.

Are young people just dragging their feet? History suggests they may be doing just that. In Massachusetts, the bellwether for sweeping health reform, enrollment among young adults increased as the deadline approached, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

Additionally, The Commonwealth Fund conducted a survey this month that found that by the end of 2013, 41 percent of the people visiting the Obamacare exchanges were ages 19 to 34.

A hunger for information

Although young people may be waiting until the last minute to purchase health insurance, education efforts should be ramped up, Smith says.

"We find that young people are hungry for information. Cost has been the biggest hurdle for them in the past and it takes some time to walk them through their options, make sure they understand all the information and help them select the best plan."

What are your thoughts on the Obamacare enrollment numbers?

Follow me on Twitter: @CrissiPonder.

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