WASHINGTON – The U.S. government said it would ramp up Obamacare outreach in 25 cities to lure younger people to the program after a report showed about 70 percent of the initial customers are 35 years of age or older.
The effort by the Obama administration and allied interest groups will focus on a Feb. 15 target to sign up people for coverage beginning March 1, said White House officials, who spoke to reporters on the condition they not be identified.
The Obama administration wanted people younger than 35 to make up about 40 percent of total enrollment to help offset the cost of care for older and sicker people. Missing the target for “young invincibles” may lead insurers to adjust prices if gains aren’t made by the official March 31 end of enrollment.
“It is more of a scale than a cliff,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s lobbying group in Washington. “The more young, healthy people participate, the more stable the marketplace will be and the more affordable premiums will be.”
The federal- and state-run insurance exchanges, the heart of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, enrolled 2.2 million people for private health plans in the three months ended Dec. 28, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a report released on Monday. About 24 percent were 18-to 34-year-olds, and about one-third were 55 or older.
Rhode Island’s state-run exchange, HealthSource RI, released its own data Monday showing that 18-to-34-year-olds made up about 23 percent of the 11,770 total enrollees as of Jan. 4, while 56 percent were age 45 and older.
Waiting for March
Obama administration officials said there is momentum behind enrollment by young adults, as eight times as many people ages 18 to 34 signed up in December as in November and October. Website outages, software failures and other technology flaws had thwarted the attempts of at least 1 million to sign up in the first month, while others may have decided to wait until closer to the March 31 deadline.
“It takes some time, particularly for young people who are new to health care, to figure out their options,” said Aaron Smith, 31, executive director of the advocacy group Young Invincibles, which is helping enroll people in Virginia, Arkansas, New York and Washington, D.C. “It’s kind of logical that people who are sick would be more likely to sign up right at the beginning.”