WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - More than 1.1 million people signed up for health insurance coverage through state and federal exchanges in January, including a rising number of young, healthy enrollees, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday.
That's 3.3 million now covered by private plans, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
While enrollment has grown, it is still short of the 4.4 million enrollees that HHS had projected by this point, according to a document the department provided last September. That projection came before the exchange's troubled opening that made signing up for insurance difficult until the problems were fixed Nov. 30.
Sebelius called the statistics "very, very encouraging news. We're seeing a healthy growth in enrollment."
Young people between the ages of 18 and 34, who are considered essential to the long-term financial health of the insurance market, went from 24% of enrollees between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 to 27% in January, according to the new records.
"These younger Americans are signing up in greater proportions," Sebelius said.
The Obama administration isn't concerned about the number of young people who have signed up for insurance, said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The number of young insurance customers is "on track" with expectations, she said.
"As we think about our overall goal, it really remains to enroll as many people as possible," Bataille said.
Administration officials have said they expected the percentage of younger insurance customers to rise as the March 31 deadline to buy health insurance draws closer. A similar trend occurred in Massachusetts, which passed in 2006 a health care law that was the model for much of the Affordable Care Act.
People between 18 and 34 are now 25% of the 3,299,492 people who have enrolled in private insurance, HHS records show. Wednesday, a new Commonwealth Fund study found that insurers and actuary exports say enrolling young people is important, but only a small part of what affects premiums.
"What these conversations and analyses by researchers illuminate is that the role of young adults has likely been over-emphasized," said Sara Collins, the study's author and Commonwealth's vice president for health care coverage and access. "Their participation is important, but lower-than -expected enrollment this year won't trigger market failure."
The law has several safety measures built in to stabilize premiums and help an insurer should it end up with a disproportionate number of sick people.
About 1.4 million people had enrolled through state-based marketplaces, and 1.9 million through the federal marketplace.
Health officials anticipated enrollment to grow in January, because problems with the federal health website have been fixed and bigger marketing campaigns by the federal and state governments had started, said Donna Frescatore, executive director of NY State of Health.
Bataille said they also expect another flood of consumers as that deadline approaches, as they saw in December when people had to sign up by lat December to receive coverage by Jan. 1. The government will continue to hold enrollment events and kick up its advertising campaign, she said.
Some states had already reported higher enrollment figures. As of Tuesday, New York state had 412,221 private insurance enrollees since Oct. 1, and 31,000 had enrolled during the first week of February. About 66% of them had not been previously covered by health insurance. Officials said they expect to meet their goal of 1.1 million people by the end of the year.
Washington state had 88,945 enrollees by Jan. 31, and by Feb. 6, they had enrolled 90,723 people.
The response to the new numbers fell along party lines.
"Based on past enrollment efforts, our research and what we're hearing in the field, we've always said that young people would wait until later in the open enrollment period to make their decision, and we're now seeing that pattern begin to play out," said Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, a group that seeks to sign up people on the exchanges.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, compared the current statistics with HHS's original enrollment goal of 4.4 million.
"Under penalty of higher taxes, Americans are mandated by law to have a plan, but they're still resisting Obamacare," said Brendan Buck, Boehner's spokesman.
Among Medicaid beneficiaries, between 1.1 million and 1.8 million of the 6.3 million enrollees since Oct. 1 were determined to be eligible for Medicaid between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, according to a new survey released by Avalere Health.
Medicaid applications have jumped 12% since the law took effect. That has risen to 19% in the states that have expanded Medicaid, said Caroline Pearson, Avalere's vice president.
Researchers, who used Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data, said they expected Medicaid to "grow substantially" through 2014.
Also on Wednesday, a new Urban Institute report showed that Americans who make $200,000 a year or more, about 2.4% of taxpayers, will make up 17% of the funding for the Affordable Care Act.
That, researchers said, shows the Affordable Care Act is not a "massive and unprecedented distribution of wealth."
Researcher Stan Dorn called the effects on well-off Americans "modest."
By 2019, 0.9% of the gross domestic product will go toward Medicaid and insurance subsidies, compared with the 3.9% that goes to Medicare, 5.6% that goes to Social Security and 1.9% that goes toward tax subsidies for employer-based insurance. Most of the funding will come from reduced payments to health care providers and taxes on the health care industry. This is offset, researchers said, by reimbursements for people who previously did not have insurance.