- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

More than 3 million people selected a health-insurance plan though the Obamacare exchanges between October and the end of January, the Health and Human Services Department reported Wednesday — though the new law is still failing to attract the young people whom insurers say are needed to make the economics work out.

Administration officials downplayed the lack of youth enrollment, instead hailing a surge of 1.1 million new customers in January alone. Americans have until March 31 to enroll in order to make the deadline for having coverage under the individual mandate.

“It’s very, very encouraging news,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

But the agency reported that 25 percent of the 3.3 million enrollees were between 18 to 34 years old, which is short of the 40 percent that experts say health insurers will need in order to offset higher costs of sick and elderly patients who can no longer be denied coverage.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the 40-percent goal for 18- to 34-year-olds was set by nongovernment experts and simply reflected the portion of the nation’s population that is uninsured. A percentage of young-adult enrollment in the mid-30s, say, might not cause prices to rise, she said.

Critics, though, said the youth number remains critical.

“Today’s report confirms that Obamacare continues to miss the mark,” said Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Wednesday’s report was the fourth monthly installment released by the Obama administration since the health exchanges opened in October.

However, the administration still has not reported how many of those new enrollees had coverage before, but lost it because it didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s standards.

The exchanges are state-based online marketplaces where customers can go to buy private insurance plans, and can obtain tax subsidies if their income is low enough to qualify.

HHS said 82 percent of people who signed up for private plans were deemed eligible for government subsidies to help them pay their premiums, up from 79 percent during the Oct. 1-Dec. 28 reporting period.

Congress gave states the option of running their own exchanges or leaving it to the federal government, and most states chose to foist the responsibility onto the Obama administration.

About 1.4 million people signed up on 15 state-run exchanges, and 1.9 million on the federally run marketplace, the report said.

That combined total is short of the pace needed to meet an initial goal of 7 million enrollees by March 31. The Congressional Budget Office this month said that because of the hiccups in the Obamacare rollout, it now projects that only 6 million people will enroll this year — though over the next few years the numbers will even out.

The District of Columbia led the way in attracting 18- to 34-year-olds, who comprised 44 percent of enrollees on its city-run exchange.

But several Democratic-run jurisdictions that embraced President Obama’s reforms produced dismal enrollment numbers, largely due to troubled websites that did not perform to expectations.

Among them, Maryland and Minnesota reported fewer than 30,000 sign-ups, while Hawaii chalked up just 3,614.

Republican critics have lambasted the law as unworkable and a bad deal for healthy people who already hold insurance and will ostensibly subsidize older, sicker people who gain coverage under the law.

They received new ammunition against the reforms this month, when Mr. Obama partially delayed a mandate requiring large companies to provide insurance and government auditors estimated that, eventually, the law will persuade more than 2 million Americans not to work because they can get government-subsidized coverage.

But the health law’s supporters said Wednesday’s report offered reassuring news.

“These latest enrollment figures reflect millions of young people, workers, entrepreneurs and families who are enjoying new health security, and the personal and economic freedom that comes with it,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, arguing that Republican lawmakers should stop trying to dismantle the law.

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