Health Care Signups; More Older Americans So Far

Younger Americans need to enroll in Obamacare. 

Posted: 01/14/2014 01:31 PM EST

Younger people went for President Barack Obama at election time, but will they buy his health insurance?

New government figures show it's an older, costlier crowd that's signing up so far for health insurance under Obama's health care law. Enrollments are lower for the healthy, younger Americans who will be needed to keep premiums from rising.

Young adults from 18 to 34 are only 24 percent of total enrollment, the administration said Monday in its first signup figures broken down for age, gender and other details.

With the HealthCare.gov website now working, the figures cover the more than 2 million Americans who had signed up for government-subsidized private insurance through the end of December in new federal and state markets.

Enrolling young and healthy people is important because they generally pay more into the system than they take out, subsidizing older adults. While 24 percent is not a bad start, say independent experts, it should be closer to 40 percent to help keep premiums down.

Adults ages 55-64 were the most heavily represented in the signups, accounting for 33 percent of the total. Overall, the premiums paid by people in that demographic don't fully cover their medical expenses. Some are in the waiting room for Medicare; that coverage starts at age 65.

The administration and its allies remain confident they'll be able to get young adults interested. Many experts expected older, sicker people to be more heavily represented in the early numbers. Younger people might procrastinate, waiting until the March 31 enrollment deadline is near, weighing whether they want to risk tax penalties for remaining uninsured.

"The dynamic of younger people is that they are going to get educated, they are going to get informed, and they are going to enroll as we get closer to that deadline," said Aaron Smith, founder of Young Invincibles, an advocacy group for young adults.

Insurers, nonprofit groups and advocates are moving ahead with marketing campaigns that were put on hold when the federal website that serves 36 states was struggling.

Administration officials said that in the coming weeks they plan to increase outreach to young people in 25 communities located in states served by the federal website. That effort includes a national youth enrollment day on Feb. 15 and targeted outreach by sororities and fraternities, as well as Voto Latino, which focuses on Hispanic youth.

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(Photo: Joe Skipper/Reuters)

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