Obamacare stats show some young folks signed up

This December 2, 2013 photo shows a woman reading the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplace internet site in Washington, DC. The troubleshooter appointed by President Barack Obama to overhaul a bungled health care website rollout said Sunday that improvements had made a 'night and day' difference in handling online traffic. 

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that nearly 2 million people enrolled for health insurance through the federal and state exchanges in December. That includes a dramatic increase in the number of young people signing up. That number of so-called 'young invincibles' is higher than some had predicted.

And in a conference call today, HHS officials said that about one in four of all the consumers on the exchanges are between the ages of 18-34. Ideally, you want to see a higher rate, about 40 percent, of exchange customers in that age range. The data raises a bunch of questions:

Q: If things stay at this current pace, what are we in for?

A: The non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation ran some numbers and found the world will not end if we stay at this 25 percent rate:

"Premiums might have to go up by 2-3 percent in 2015, but there’s no risk of any death spiral here with the kind of enrollment numbers they’ve released," says Kaiser Vice President Larry Levitt.

Levitt says he expects more young people will arrive in the final 11 weeks before the March 31st enrollment deadline.

Q: But even if more young people do sign up, this is more about health than age, right?

A: Right. A sick 23-year-old will cost the insurance companies a lot more than a healthy 63-year-old. That said, the government plans to aggressively go out and recruit as many young and healthy people as possible.

Q: What haven't we learned from today's numbers that we'd like to know about?

A: What is missing is basic but difficult to obtain stats. Look, some 16 million Americans are expected to get insurance in 2014. Of the 2.2 million who have enrolled through the exchanges we don’t know how many of them are uninsured. Nearly 4 million people have signed up for Medicaid. How many of them are new to the healthcare program? Finally, how many people are asking for hardship exemption because they can’t afford the coverage? It’s January, still early, and right now we’ve got more questions than answers.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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