60,000 Ohioans enrolled in plans

Sign-ups accelerate among young adults.

By the end of January, more than 60,000 Ohioans had signed up for private health coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act — up from about 40,000 Ohio enrollees by the end of December, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday.

Nationwide, total enrollment in private plans in the 36 federal and 14 state-run marketplaces rose to 3.3 million last month, up about 53 percent from the 2.1 million total for October, November and December, HHS reported.

Those qualifying for Medicaid on the marketplaces through expanded eligibility requirements added more than 6 million people for a total of 9.6 million Americans who have either signed up for private insurance or been deemed eligible for Medicaid through the marketplaces since enrollment began Oct. 1.

“These encouraging trends show that more Americans are enrolling every day, and finding quality, affordable coverage in the marketplace,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said.

While enrollment continued to rise, the participation of young adults picked up steam at an even faster rate, alleviating concerns that a disproportionate number of older, sicker enrollees would drive up premium costs for health plans sold on the marketplaces.

“The covered population is getting younger, and those younger Americans are choosing high-quality silver, gold and platinum plans,” Sebelius said. “That’s very, very encouraging news.”

The marketplaces need a large share of young adults paying the premiums associated with high-value silver, gold and platinum health plans to help offset the medical costs of higher-risk enrollees and stabilize prices, experts say.

About 27 percent of consumers enrolling in marketplace plans through the end of January were between the ages of 18 and 34, according to government figures. That was up from a roughly 24 percent share of young adults by the end of December.

In addition, the marketplace take-up rate by young adults was higher than the take-up rate for any other age group, Sebelius said.

Nationwide, young adult enrollment grew by 65 percent in January, from 489,460 at the end of December to 807,515 as of Feb. 1, while all other age groups combined grew by 55 percent, HHS figures show.

In Ohio, young adults comprised 21 percent of marketplace enrollment by the end of January, up from 19 percent at the end of last year.

Enrollment figures are below Congressional Budget Office projections that the marketplaces would need participation by young people to reach about 40 percent. But that was before the CBO adjusted down total enrollment this year from seven million to six million people, which also reduces the total number of young people needed to enroll.

“A lower percentage of young adults can be covered without rates being impacted,” said Julie Bataille, director of communications for HHS’ Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. “We are encouraged by number of people we’ve seen enroll in plans.”

HHS officials noted that consumers still have plenty of time to enroll in marketplace plans before the March 31 final deadline, and they expect enrollment to surge closer to the deadline, as was the case when Massachusetts adopted health care reform in 2006.

While the numbers continue to trend upward, enrollment dipped in January on a month-to-month basis following a surge of consumers scrambling to sign up for coverage in December, the deadline for coverage beginning the first of this year.

But the fall-off from about 1.8 million enrollees in December to 1.1 million last month was not unexpected, said Kev Coleman, head of research and data for HealthPocket.com, a website that analyzes health care costs.

“The increase in enrollment volume for January is an encouraging sign for the administration given that many people would have been motivated to enroll by December in order for coverage to begin on the first of January,” Coleman said.

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