Can Massachusetts predict young adult exchange sign-ups?

After the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' latest enrollment figures skewed older, many industry experts are wondering whether this key consumer population will sign up for coverage in the remaining months of open enrollment.

Massachusetts' reform implementation could hold the answer. Enrollment in its online marketplace was generally slow and young adults didn't sign up until the end of the enrollment period, reported the New Republic.

During the 11 months of the Commonwealth's open enrollment period, young adults comprised 97 percent of consumers signing up for exchange plans in the last three months. But young adults comprised only 59 percent of consumers the first three months.

That might bode well for both the federal and state exchanges, where young adults make up only 24 percent of all consumers enrolling in the first three months, as FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

Although Massachusetts reform doesn't entirely translate to the federal reform, its experience still offers valuable lessons. "These data aren't 100 percent predictive for every state, most importantly because of differences across states in the share of the potential market that is young," Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who was an architect of both the Massachusetts and federal reform, told the New Republic.

"But these facts highlight two things. First, you don't need a huge/majority share of enrollees to be young for markets to function well," he said. "Second, the young tend to wait to sign up until closer to the deadline."

The Obama administration has pointed to the statewide healthcare reform launch in Massachusetts, which faced similar enrollment hiccups. In the first month of open enrollment in 2007, 123 people enrolled, but by the second month that number jumped to 2,289, and eventually more than 36,000 signed up in the first year, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the New Republic article