Health plan enrollees are slightly younger mix

  • Article by: Robert Pear
  • New York Times
  • February 12, 2014 - 9:24 PM

Nearly 3.3 million people have signed up for health insurance through the marketplaces established by President Obama’s health care law, and about one-fourth of them are young adults, the administration said Wednesday.

The administration reported a modest uptick in the enrollment of young adults, a group avidly sought by insurers because they are usually healthier and need fewer costly medical services.

In a new report on enrollment, the administration said that 1.9 million people had selected health plans in the federal marketplace from October through January, while 1.4 million chose plans in state-run insurance exchanges.

In January alone, officials said, more than 1.1 million people signed up for insurance in the federal and state exchanges.

Administration officials said they were pleased with the numbers. “These encouraging trends show that more Americans are enrolling every day, and finding quality, affordable coverage in the marketplace,” said Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.

“The covered population is getting younger,” Sebelius said. In January, 318,000 people ages 18 to 34 selected health plans, bringing the total in this age group to 807,500, officials said.

The administration’s goal was to have 4.4 million people signed up by now, according to a memorandum prepared in September by the Department of Health and Human Services. But the federal insurance website,, got off to a rocky start, thwarting many people who tried to sign up in October and November.

The new data show that people buying insurance on the exchanges still tend to be older and potentially less healthy.

Of those who signed up in the past four months, administration officials said, 53 percent are age 45 to 64 — down slightly from 55 percent in the first three months. About 25 percent of those choosing a health insurance plan are 18 to 34. This group accounted for 24 percent of those picking plans in the first three months.

People 55 to 64 — the range just below the age at which people qualify for Medicare — represented the largest group, at 31 percent, down from 33 percent in the months from October through December.

The open enrollment period continues until March 31, and White House officials predict a surge of applications just before the deadline.

People who go without insurance after that may be subject to tax penalties, although the Internal Revenue Service has indicated that it prefers public education over aggressive enforcement in the first year of the “individual mandate.”

After reviewing the new report, Caroline Pearson, a vice president of Avalere Health, a research and consulting company, said, “Enrollment in the exchanges appears to be on track to reach roughly 6 million by the end of March. It is also important that the age mix of enrollees improved in January, relative to the first three months of open enrollment. That supports my hypothesis that the older, sicker enrollees will sign up first, and the younger, healthier people will enroll later.”

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