Obamacare enrolment numbers reveal critical lack of young customers

–  ” sign that prices may have to rise to keep insurers in the program “

  • Figures show more older people have signed up for plans
  • Insurance companies need young people to balance books
  • Key White House aide announces departure

in Washington

theguardian.com,              Monday 13 January 2014 19.07 EST

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California extols Affordable Care act on Capitol Hill on 9 January
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California extols Affordable Care act on Capitol Hill on 9 January Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The scale of the challenge still facing the Obama administration over the president’s healthcare was starkly exposed on Monday when new figures showed that less than a third of people signing up for health insurance plans are under 35.

In its first release of a demographic breakdown since the scheme’s launch in October, the White House confirmed fears that much-publicised technical problems may have deterred younger customers and left the market skewed toward those with more incentive to sign up. The figures indicate that it will be tough for insurance companies to balance their books.

Some 55% of those enrolling are aged between 45 and 64 years, compared with just 24% aged between 18 and 34 years old.

Though the numbers represent a positive development from the perspective of bringing affordable health insurance to those most likely to become ill, the figures are thought to be behind government targets and a sign that prices may have to rise to keep insurers in the program.

One of the main principles behind Obamacare was that by requiring everyone to take out health insurance – or face a financial penalty – the scheme would attract large quantities of younger, healthier customers into the market for the first time.

Instead, Obamacare’s other mandate requiring insurers not to discriminate against customers with pre-existing medical conditions or on the basis of their gender seems to have been a bigger draw.

Of the 2.2 million Americans who have signed up either through state exchanges or the troubled federal website, 54% are female and 46% are male.

The administration heralded a surge in customers registering toward the end of the year as a sign that the website problems were now behind it. “Our outreach efforts have ramped up, so whether it’s through public service announcements, events, our champions or other means, we are doing all we can to find, inform and enroll those who can benefit from the marketplace,” added Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement.

The much publicised problems with the launch of Obamacare were at the centre of a string of setbacks in 2013 that have since led the White House to reshuffle a number of senior staff.

On Monday, Danielle Gray, one of Obama’s longest senior advisers announced she would be stepping down as cabinet secretary. One of her tasks in that role was to draft aspects of the health care law to protect it from legal challenges.


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