After an eight-fold increase in enrollment, 18-34 year olds represented approximately one-quarter of people signing up for marketplace healthcare plans. The Department of Health and Human Services (or, HHS) released the long-awaited demographic data along with the enrollment figures for October 1 through December 28.
HHS reports that just under 2.2 million people have selected a plan, but there is no data on how many of these individuals have paid for their insurance. Women have been more likely to sign up than men, accounting for 54 percent of enrollees.
The Silver plan has been the most popular, with 60 percent choosing that level of coverage. Of all enrollees, 79 percent are the recipients of federal aid. In providing the demographic break-downs, HHS combined state, and federal figures, but listed the individual components as well. The information is an important step forward in understanding who has signed up for coverage, and which groups need to be targeted if the law is to succeed. So far, youth enrollment is below previous administration expectations.
An analysis by Kaiser used original Administration expectations of 7 million individuals being covered in the marketplace. Prior to Healthcare.gov going online, the administration stated it hoped for 2.7 million young adults to enter the market place, 38 percent of the total. “Because young adults will be cross-subsidizing older adults, they need to enroll in sufficient numbers for that cross-subsidy to be sufficient,” the report stated. Kaiser pegged the “sufficient number” for enrollment of 18 to 34 year olds to be 40 percent. Should that demographic fall below 25 percent, the cost of individual market plans would increase by 2.4 percent.
Kaiser ran the analysis for this, but said it is likely to be “a worst-case scenario,” and enrollment within the targeted 18 to 34 audience would grow as the deadline for open enrollment approached. Kaiser also said that if young adults account for one-third of enrollees, prices would increase by 1.1 percent.
In a blog post, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the youth enrollment data. “Through December, 30 percent of those who enrolled were under age 35, with 24 percent being between the ages of 18 and 34 — consistent with the proportion of the population in this age group and in keeping with where Massachusetts enrollment was at this point,” Sebelius wrote.
A spokesperson for Speaker of the House John Boehner did not see it in that light. “Youth enrollment has been a bust so far,” Brendan Buck, told Bloomberg in an e-mail. “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.”
Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, characterized the coming battle for youth enrollment as “a scale than a cliff.” Zirkelbach added that more young, healthy people will create stability for the marketplace and lower premium costs.
The data does not answer every question that will help sort out the law’s ultimate success. No information has been provided as to whether people signing up for heathcare were uninsured, or insured prior to selecting a marketplace plan. There is also no information about how many Medicaid enrollees would have been eligible for the program before Obamacare, and how many have signed up because of changes stemming from the law.