HHS: 24 Percent of Enrollees Between 18 and 35

Monday HHS released a report which, for the first time, reveals demographic data on the people who have enrolled. Currently 24 percent of those enrolled are between the ages of 18 and 35. That figure is significantly lower than the 39 percent the White House indicated was necessary to consider the enrollment period a success.

The newly published HHS report announces “Persons between the ages of 18 and 34 account for nearly a quarter (24 percent) of all Marketplace plan selections.” It continues, “enrollment of young adults is…important to help to ensure a favorable risk mix.” The 24 percent figure is slightly lower than the prevalence of this same age group in the population (26 percent).

The 24 percent figure is also significantly lower than what the administration had said was needed in order to consider the enrollment period a success. Back in November Wonkblog’s Ezra Klein indicated that in his discussions with the White House “It all came down to the ratio.” Klein specified that this meant, “If 7 million people signed up for the exchanges — as CBO predicted — the Obama administration believed success meant ensuring about 2.7 million of them were young and healthy.” That works out to about 39 percent.

The administration is clearly aware that the figures released today fall below their own definition of success. In the announcement of the numbers on the HHS blog, Secretary Sebelius writes “Through December, 30 percent of those who enrolled were under age 35,
with 24 percent being between the ages of 18 and 34 – consistent with
the proportion of the population in this age group and in keeping with
where Massachusetts enrollment was at this point.” The link leads to New Republic story published last week which contains a month-by-month tally of the percentage of young people who signed up for an equivalent program in Massachusetts.

Sec. Sebelius is correct that current enrollment is right about where Massachusetts was halfway through its enrollment period (which was 12 months rather than 6). What Sebelius does not say is that in Massachusetts enrollment topped out around 34 percent. That was its best month out of 12. The average result over the entire enrollment period was closer to 30 percent. If Obamacare is on the same course, as Sec. Sebelius seems to be arguing it is, then it is going to fall 10 percent short of the White House’s definition of success.

Of course the enrollment period is only half over but it would take a massive influx of young invincibles for Obamacare to overcome this slow start. If we assume the total number of enrollees will double by March 31st (which is roughly what happened in Massachusetts) then we would need to see 54 percent between the ages of 18 and 35 in order to finish with 39 percent overall. That’s more than double their percentage of the population. Anything is possible but there is no precedent in Massachusetts for such an influx.

The Obama administration has been claiming for months that they are following the path set in Massachusetts. If so they are very unlikely to reach the White House’s own definition of success this year.

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