HHS: Young adults make up only 24% of exchange enrollees

More than 2 million people have signed up for coverage through state and federal health insurance exchanges, but a key consumer population--young adults--accounts for only 24 percent of that total, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced Monday.

Few consumers between 18 and 34 years old have enrolled in plans sold on the exchanges as of Dec. 28, 2013. Since young adults are considered a vital demographic that will offset the costs of older, sick consumers, they are highly coveted by insurers.

In fact, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis determined it would be a worst case scenario if only 25 percent of exchange enrollees were young adults. That would make costs about 2.4 percent higher and premiums would increase by wide margins, Reuters reported.

"If we see fewer than 30 percent of the enrollees being in that 18-to-34 age bracket, that's a warning sign that there are problems," Seth Chandler, a law professor at the University of Houston who specializes in insurance, told Reuters. "If the demographics come in poorly, insurers are going to lose money."

But not everyone thinks the low turnout of young adults so far is cause for concern. "There's no question because of the technological challenge, that outreach to that population was put on hold and folks coming to the website in October and November were those who were super-motivated," Sabrina Corlette, research professor at the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, told Kaiser Health News.

HHS officials agreed. "We think that more and more young people are going to sign up as time goes by, which was the experience in Massachusetts and what we expect to see here," Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director for the HHS Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said in a conference call Monday, ABC News reported. "We are actually very pleased with the percentage that we have so far, and we expect that percentage to increase."

The HHS report also showed that of the 4.3 million applications received through December, only about half of the consumers--2.1 million people--have selected and enrolled in a plan.

To learn more:
- here's the HHS announcement and report (.pdf)
- read the Reuters article
- see the Kaiser Health News article
- check out the ABC News article

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