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Federal Health Care Enrollees: Older Outnumber Younger

For the first time, we are getting some demographic information about the more than 2 million people who have signed up for private health insurance through the exchanges set up by the federal government.

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration said older, less healthy enrollees outnumber healthy, younger ones. The Times adds:

"But officials expressed optimism that more young people will sign up in the months ahead, calling it 'solid, solid news' for the health care law. They said demand for insurance through the marketplaces was increasing sharply across all age groups and they said youth outreach will become more aggressive in the months ahead."

"'We're pleased to see such a strong response and heavy demand,' said Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. 'Among young adults, the momentum was particularly strong.' ...

"Of those who signed up in the first three months, 55 percent are age 45 to 64, officials said. Only 24 percent of those choosing a health insurance plan are 18 to 34, a group that is usually healthier and needs fewer costly medical services. People 55 to 64 – just below the age at which people qualify for Medicare — represented the largest group, at 33 percent."

Of course, the worry is if that kind of demographic mix remains true, premiums would have to rise, because young, healthy people are expected to subsidize the older, less healthy population.

USA Today spoke to Aaron Smith, co-founder of a group that works to enroll young people. He said ultimately the goal is that 37-40 percent of enrollees would be younger than 35.

"I think where we're at now shows that we're on track for that," he said. "We saw huge numbers in December, compared to the previous months."

Nancy Delew, acting HHS deputy secretary for planning and evaluation, told the paper that the numbers they are seeing now are in line with what happened in Massachusetts, when it launched its own healthcare exchange. The state was the model for the Affordable Care Act.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.