Young adults helped Obamacare signups surpass goal, government says

05/01/2014 1:15 PM

05/01/2014 11:40 PM

A late surge of enrollments by 1.2 million young adults helped push signups for coverage on the health insurance marketplaces past the previously announced total of 8 million.

In more detail than before, the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday painted a statistical picture of insurance signups under Obamacare. As predicted, the percentage of young adult buyers grew in March and April.

The signup deadline was March 31, but some people were allowed to finish applications until April 19 because of previous website enrollment problems.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius reported that for the full enrollment period, from Oct. 1, 2013, to March 31, 2014, more than one-fourth — 28 percent — of people who selected marketplace health policies were in the coveted 18-to-34 age group.

The administration had considered participation of younger, presumably healthier, people essential to make Obamacare’s cost projections viable.

The report didn’t include any information, though, about the health status of those who chose coverage.

The new data did say the overall marketplace enrollees for the first year of mandated individual coverage under the Affordable Care Act included 152,335 Missourians and 57,013 Kansans.

In all, 5.4 million people, including those in Missouri and Kansas and 34 other states, signed up for health insurance on the federally operated marketplace. Nearly 2.6 million signed up on state-operated marketplaces. Those numbers combine for the total of 8 million.

Even with 8 million signups, Obamacare has public opinion challenges. The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found a 46 percent unfavorable perception vs. 38 percent favorable. Still, about six in 10 said Congress should fix it, not scrap it.

The report Thursday failed to address at least one concern about the program. It didn’t say what percentage of premiums had been paid and thus were actually in effect. But, because of the late March surge in enrollments, it was expected that payment information would take a while to catch up.

A Republican-led committee in the U.S. House said Wednesday that it had surveyed insurers participating on the federal exchange and that two-thirds of the enrollees on 160 surveyed health plans had paid for their policy premiums as of April 15.

Separately, a WellPoint executive said it was experiencing a 90 percent payment rate for its marketplace policies, and Aetna said in an earnings call last week that it was seeing an 80 percent payment rate on its exchange plans.

Aetna, which sells marketplace plans to Kansas City area residents under the Coventry name, said it was not yet making available any state-by-state information.

Neither was Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, the other marketplace insurer in the area.

Federal officials also said in a conference call Thursday with reporters that there were no reliable data yet to say how many plan purchasers were first-time buyers of health insurance.

The administration did report for the first time a breakdown of the race and ethnicity of the federal marketplace enrollees. According to optional information provided by those who signed up:

• 62.9 percent are white.

• 16.7 percent are African-American.

• 10.7 percent are Latino.

• 7.9 percent are Asian.

• 1.3 percent are multiracial.

• Less than a half percent are American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Reporters questioned the relatively low rate of the Latino population. But Myra Alvarez, associate director of the HHS Office of Minority Health, said the department had learned valuable “outreach” lessons in this, the ACA’s first open enrollment period.

Alvarez said federal officials have learned how to work through trusted Latino organizations for education and signups and to allay fears that signing up for health insurance might expose Latinos to immigration problems. The Spanish language version of HealthCare.gov also was late to roll out.

Alvarez also noted that the racial breakout was only for the federal marketplace and that some states with high Latino populations were running their own insurance exchanges.

States with the most total enrollments were California (1.4 million), Florida (983,800), Texas (733,800), New York (370,500), North Carolina (357,600), Pennsylvania (318,100) and Georgia (316,500).

In addition to the more than 8 million who signed up for health insurance through the marketplaces, “more than 4.8 million more people have been covered by states through Medicaid and CHIP programs,” Sebelius said.

The HHS reports said Medicaid and CHIP enrollments since Oct. 1 grew in Kansas by 22,498 and fell in Missouri by 33,832. Neither state legislature has authorized expansion of its state Medicaid programs under the reform act’s provisions.

Sebelius also said that “estimates show that an additional 5 million people have purchased coverage outside of the marketplace in Affordable Care Act-compliant plans.”

Among enrollees, not quite two-thirds chose a silver-rated plan and about one in five chose a bronze plan, the report said. Plans were classified, in descending rank, based on the wealth of benefits and costs, as platinum, gold, silver, bronze and catastrophic only.

The distribution of plans selected by Missourians and Kansans dovetailed with national choices. About six in 10 selected silver-rated plans in both states.

The federal department said 85 percent of plan purchasers through the marketplaces selected a plan that provided financial assistance in the form of a federal subsidy. Missouri and Kansas were consistent with the national figures.

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