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Young People Lag Behind In Health Insurance Enrollment

There are only a few more weeks for people to get health coverage on HealthCare.gov and state exchanges.
Jon Elswick / AP
There are only a few more weeks for people to get health coverage on HealthCare.gov and state exchanges.

With 20 days left for people to sign up for private health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the number of people who have completed that task rose to 4.2 million through the end of February, the Obama administration reports.

While the 943,000 people who signed up in February through the federal site or a state health exchange is slightly less than the original February projection of about 1.3 million, the exchanges have mostly put behind them their very sorry starts, when enrollments were often counted in the tens or hundreds.

"What we're finding is that as more Americans learn just how affordable marketplace insurance can be, more are signing up to get covered," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a media briefing.

Now concern seems to be focused on whether the various health plans will have enough healthy people in their mix of customers to keep premiums stable. And that has everyone looking at the percentage of younger enrollees, particularly those between ages 18 and 34. On average, young people have lower health care costs than older people.

February's numbers looked OK, but not great when gauged that way. Of those signing up for insurance last month, 27 percent were in that coveted young adult demographic. That was up 3 percentage points from the first three months of open enrollment, but the same as January.

As a result, the percentage of young adults who have enrolled in insurance through the exchanges since they opened Oct. 1 remains at 25 percent.

Women are more numerous in the exchanges than men — 55 percent and 45 percent respectively. Some analysts have suggested that could pose a problem, since women tend to use more health care services.

The most popular type of plan remains the silver one, the second lowest of the four tiers defined by the law. The plan's popularity isn't surprising, because coverage is linked to full cost-sharing subsidies for those with incomes under 250 percent of the federal poverty line.

The administration has stepped up its outreach to young people. President Obama even went between the ferns with comedian Zach Galifianakis on FunnyorDie.com to talk about health insurance. "I think it's fair to say I wouldn't be here today if I didn't have something to plug," the president says. "Have you heard of the Affordable Care Act?"

Evidently a lot more people have now. White House health spokeswoman Tara McGuinness tweeted Tuesday afternoon that " FunnyorDie.com is the #1 source of referrals to HealthCare.govright now." About 19,000 people who watched the video went to HealthCare.gov, the White House said.

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