The Obama administration on Monday released its latest batch of healthcare enrollment numbers, figures that for the first time include the demographic breakdown of those who have picked health plans in the federal and state exchanges as of December 28. The big takeaway from the monthly release is the fact that more older, presumably less healthy Americans have signed up than their younger, likely healthier counterparts. Adults aged 55 to 64 accounted for 33 percent of the 2.2 million people to sign up through healthcare.gov and the state-run websites; adults aged 18 to 34, meanwhile, represented 24 percent of those enrollees.*
The 2.2 million figure is far short of the 7 million people that the administration has previously estimated would sign up by the end of March. But despite that, most experts say the more pressing concern is not how many people sign up through the exchanges but instead the age and health of those who do. Convincing young, healthy adults to enroll is seen as crucial to keeping premiums under control. But in that regard, today's numbers tell only part of the story. It's not a surprise, after all, that older individuals would be more eager to sign up than their younger, healthier counterparts. The true test will be where things stand when open enrollment comes to a close at the end of March, at which point independent experts say that the percentage of young enrollees will need to climb to closer to 40 percent to prevent a spike in premiums.
Of course, in the meantime, that won't stop both sides from spinning the enrollment figures to continue to craft their respective narratives about the president's landmark healthcare reform law. Administration officials called the early enrollment numbers "solid, solid news" for Obamacare and suggested that momementum is on their side. "We think that more and more young people are going to sign up as time goes by," said Gary Cohen, the director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Republicans, meanwhile, will no doubt see the numbers in a harsher light. (Don't be surprised to hear the words "death spiral" coming from the House GOP.)
*Correction Monday, Jan. 13: Due to a typo, an earlier version of this post wrongly reported that 24 percent of those individuals who had signed up were aged 18 to 24. Twenty-four percent of the individuals were aged 18 to 34.