About 2.2 million Americans have now enrolled in health coverage through the new insurance exchanges. That’s a welcome number, considering the badly bungled rollout of HealthCare.gov, the online federal marketplace. The website is working much more smoothly now for enrollees, although a couple of the state-based sites still have issues.
But more than half of the enrollees so far are in the 45- to-64-year-old age bracket. That group racks up higher medical costs than the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, which accounts for only about a fourth of the enrollment so far. Insurers say they need to have younger consumers in the pool to hold down the costs of policies.
The shortage so far of the “young healthies,” as they are called, isn’t necessarily a cause for panic. It makes sense that older people who depend on medical care would be the first to sign up. But more youthful consumers are needed before this year’s open enrollment period ends March 31.
Foes of “Obamacare” have targeted young people with unhelpful messages, urging them not to sign up for insurance and pay a fine instead.
Talk about bad advice.
Many young consumers will find they are eligible for subsidies, enabling them to buy insurance at surprisingly low rates. Those who choose to opt out will be subject to a tax penalty, and they’ll receive nothing for it. What they will receive is the full bill for any routine or emergency medical expense they may accrue. And a one-time trip to the emergency room — for a sprained ankle, say — can run into thousands of dollars.
In Missouri, 33,138 persons, many of them previously uninsured, had selected health plans through the insurance exchanges as of Dec. 31. That’s about 60 percent of the target number for new enrollees set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kansas had recorded 14,242 private plan signups by the end of last year, which is 57 percent of the target.
In both states, the percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds signing up was close to the 24 percent national average.
Considerable confusion continues to swirl around the health care law. Health and community groups should step up efforts to educate people, especially young consumers, about the exchanges.
Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.