Health Care

Who's Buying Obamacare, in Three Charts


More than 2.1 million Americans selected private health plans through healthcare.gov and state-run websites through Dec. 28, the Obama administration announced today. Another 1.6 million were judged eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor. Most of the new enrollees in private health plans—1.8 million—signed up in December, after the White House relaunched the Affordable Care Act’s stuttering website on Dec. 1.
 
People can still enroll in Obamacare plans through the end of March to get coverage this year. The White House is hoping for a mix of people that includes enough young and healthy folk to balance the medical costs of older enrollees who need more care. Here’s a snapshot of who signed up in the first three months. All data are from the Department of Health and Human Services, through Dec. 28.

About 30 percent of new enrollees are under 35. White House officials say that’s an acceptable mix, and they expect more young people to come on board closer to the March 31 deadline. “We think that more and more young people are going to sign up as time goes by, based on the experience in Massachusetts,” Gary Cohen, deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, said on a conference call with reporters. “We’re actually very pleased with the percentage that we have right now, and we expect that percentage to increase.”

Most of the people who bought coverage on the exchanges this fall got subsidies to help them afford the premiums. That’s in contrast to the first month of the program, when less than one-third of buyers were subsidized. People earning up to four times the poverty rate—as much as $96,000 a year for a family of four—can get help buying coverage.

The numbers released today don’t count people who bought health plans off the exchanges. Given the website’s technical problems, people buying insurance who earn too much for subsidies may have bypassed healthcare.gov entirely and purchased plans from brokers or directly from insurance companies. The government doesn’t yet have data on how many people got coverage directly.

Under Obamacare, insurers can’t charge men and women different rates—or, as Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius put it, “Starting in 2014, being a woman is no longer a preexisting condition.” That generally resulted in lower prices for women compared with insurance markets where underwriting by gender is allowed, so it’s not surprising women signed up in greater numbers.

John_tozzi
Tozzi is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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