- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Consumers buying health insurance through MNsure are getting older, according to data released Wednesday from the latest round of open enrollment, a troubling sign that could mean increasing costs.

The state’s health insurance exchange celebrated meeting its goals for private coverage signups after enrollment closed at the end of January, finally hitting a critical goal after two years of setbacks. But the details behind those numbers show the share of residents 55 and older who bought insurance through MNsure have jumped by 7 percent since 2015, while the pool of younger enrollees shrank.

Signing up young adults between 18 and 34 - dubbed “young invincibles”- is critical to keeping prices down because the healthier enrollees help offset higher costs of older customers.

It depends on how individual insurance companies budgeted for 2016, but Cynthia Cox from the Kaiser Family Foundation said an aging enrollment pool generally leads to premium increases.

“If all of these 55- to 64-year-olds are really marathon runners and eating vegan meals or something, it might be OK,” Cox said.

MNsure chief executive Allison O’Toole acknowledged it’s a developing issue, especially after a year marked by double-digit premium increases that shocked many consumers. She suggested the exchange may try partnering with community organizations next year that are dedicated to wooing younger shoppers.

On the national level, Cox said the share of young adults buying coverage has remained relatively flat.

She and O’Toole both referenced the state’s unique subsidized health care program called MinnesotaCare - offering low-cost plans to residents who make too much for Medicaid but can’t afford private coverage - as possibly being responsible for Minnesota’s smaller share of younger enrollees.

“We have been focused on getting those young folks enrolled,” O’Toole said.

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