- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

Older adults, more expensive to cover, outnumber young people so far in health care signups

WASHINGTON (AP) - It’s an older, costlier crowd that’s signing up so far for health insurance under President Barack Obama’s law, according to government figures released Monday. 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 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.

Some questions remained unanswered.

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Facility where chemicals spilled into W.Va. river flew under state, federal regulatory radar

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The facility whose chemical spill contaminated the water supply for 300,000 West Virginia residents was barely scrutinized, flying largely under the radar of government regulators who viewed it as a low-risk operation - but in reality, a problem at a key holding wall went undetected and unreported at Freedom Industries Inc.

The chemicals stored at Freedom’s facility near the Elk River are not considered hazardous enough by regulators to prompt routine inspections. On a normal day, it never created chemical waste that went into the environment. As a result, the chemical storage terminal was a low priority for regulators, who must pick and choose how to allocate scarce manpower when enforcing environmental laws.

“I think that the loophole that this facility fell into is because it was not a hazardous material, it flew under the radar,” said Randy Huffman, cabinet secretary of West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, which enforces environmental laws.

Freedom’s storage terminal holds millions of pounds of chemicals - including some used in coal processing - just a mile and a half upstream from pipes that take in water for a public drinking supply. The distance left little opportunity for chemicals to dilute in the event of a spill.

And those chemicals were stored behind a brick-and-concrete block dike that seems to have had structural problems - an issue the company apparently was aware of. A state official says the president of Freedom told regulators that $1 million had been put into an escrow account to fix the wall that ultimately failed to hold Thursday’s spill, which resulted in a five-day ban on tap water. The ban was lifted for some areas Monday afternoon.

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Supreme Court appears likely to limit president’s use of recess appointments

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