- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

MIAMI (AP) - The number of young adults signing up for insurance in the new federal marketplace is gradually increasing in Florida even though overall enrollment from last month did not increase dramatically, according to figures released Wednesday by federal health officials.

Nearly 139,000 Floridians enrolled in January for a total of about 297,000 since enrollment began in October. Roughly 23 percent of total enrollees, or 68,310, fell into the crucial 18- to 34-year-old demographic. That increased by three percentage points from roughly 20 percent of young adults who had signed up for coverage for the three months ending in December, according to enrollment statistics from the Health and Human Services Department.

Insurers are counting on the business of the so-called “young invincibles” to offset the costs of covering older, sicker enrollees. The Obama administration has been courting young adults through social media campaigns and celebrity endorsements.

It’s unclear what percentage of so-called “young invincibles” the government needs to balance out the risk pool. Federal health officials have said the figures suggested an appropriate mix.

Officials noted they were hosting Google hangouts and Twitter chats to push enrollment among young adults. The president even hosted an event with moms asking their help to recruit their kids to sign up for health coverage. The administration expects young adult enrollment to increase as they near the March 31 sign-up deadline.

“Many of them are not likely to act until there is a deadline driving them to do so,” said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The numbers released Wednesday came just hours before Vice President Joe Biden landed in Florida to tout the Affordable Care Act. The president has dispatched Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other top leaders frequently in recent months to the Sunshine State, where about 3.5 million lack health insurance.

Biden made a quick stop at S&S; Diner in Coral Gables while en route to a fundraiser, where he met with a group of local women who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act and are working to sign up others. Several of the women are also mothers, a group that Biden’s press office noted plays an important role in recruiting their young adult children.

“Tell me what’s working best,” he said, asking the women to share their experiences. “Tell me what’s not working.”

Overall, nearly 139,000 Floridians signed up for health insurance in January, which is about the same number that enrolled in December. And 88 percent of those who purchased plans qualified for a tax credit. Nationally, nearly 3.3 million people have signed up since October, according to federal health officials.

Although Sebelius says she’s encouraged by the momentum, the government’s initial target of 7 million by the end of March still seems like a stretch. The administration projected about 477,000 of those would come from Florida.

During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, officials were unable to say how many of those who signed up were previously uninsured - the ultimate test of President Barack Obama’s hard-fought overhaul.

The administration also backed off from giving hard sign-up targets they hope to reach by March.

“Our goal is to enroll as many people as possible in quality, affordable health plans. We believe that we’re on track to do that,” said Bataille.

Florida continues to lead enrollment efforts among the three dozen states relying on the federally run marketplace, a key facet the Affordable Care Act. Florida’s nearly 297,000 enrollees compares to 207,546 in Texas.

According to the feds, about 56 percent of those who enrolled in Florida were women and 44 percent were men.


Kennedy reported from Dallas.


Follow Kennedy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kkennedyAP

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