Georgia exchange enrollment jumped in December

By Andy Miller

More than 58,000 Georgians signed up for health coverage in the insurance exchange by Dec. 28, a nearly eightfold jump from the enrollment figure a month before, according to a federal report released Monday.

The increase reflected a more functional federal website for people to navigate, and came ahead of the deadline of late December to sign up for insurance to begin Jan. 1.

Thirty percent of the Georgia enrollees are under age 35, a key statistic in determining whether the Affordable Care Act’s exchange will work. Insurance experts say for the exchange to work and be economically viable for insurers, there must be enough young and healthy enrollees in the exchange to balance the risk from older and sicker enrollees. Twenty-six percent of the Georgians signing up are from ages 18 to 34.

Nationally, 24 percent of those enrolling in the marketplaces through Dec. 28 were ages 18 to 34.

Those age figures in Georgia are consistent with the rate in the individual insurance market in the past, said Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University.

Part of the enrollment jump reflected “pent-up demand caused by the initial failure of the website,’’ he added. When debuted Oct. 1, it did not work properly for the vast majority of Americans. Repairs took weeks.

“We’ll have a better picture [of enrollment] in a couple of months,’’ Custer said. “2014 will be a transitional year.’’

Nationally, nearly 2.2 million people had selected plans from the state and federal marketplaces by Dec. 28, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Monday. December alone accounted for nearly 1.8 million enrollees in state and federal exchanges.

According to the HHS data, 57 percent of Georgia enrollees have chosen Silver plans, followed by 19 percent picking Platinum; and 12 percent each for the lowest-cost Bronze and for Gold.

The Silver plan resembles a typical insurance plan, Custer said, adding that if a subsidy is large enough, the cost of this coverage would not be much different from that of a Bronze plan.

And 57 percent of Georgians signing up are women, slightly higher than the national average of 54 percent.

The Health and Human Services data also show 78 percent of Georgia enrollees qualified for a subsidy to help them afford coverage.

The number of Georgians signing up for a health plan, 58,611, showed the Peach State behind several other major states that have the federal government running their exchanges: 158,030 signed up in Florida; 118,532 in Texas; 107,778 in North Carolina; 81,320 in Pennsylvania; 75,511 in Michigan; and 61,111 in Illinois. The Georgia number as of the end of November was 6,859.

Americans with no health insurance have until March 31 to enroll in a plan and therefore avoid paying a fine for lack of coverage.

HHS also reported that 30,983 Georgians have been deemed eligible for Medicaid and PeachCare.

It was the age demographic that drew the most attention Monday.

Young adults are the most likely group to lack coverage — 19 million people between 18 and 34 are uninsured, Kaiser Health News reported.

Most say they do not buy health coverage because they can’t afford it, says Aaron Smith, founder and executive director of the nonprofit group Young Invincibles, which supports the health law.

“The 24 percent figure suggests we are on the right track,” Smith told Kaiser Health News.

But Cori Uccello, senior health policy fellow at the American Academy of Actuaries, cautioned that age distribution is only a rough barometer of the kind of population signing up for coverage, because age alone is not a definitive indicator of health. “It’s not just the distribution of age, but the health status at every age and what is their experience” in using insurance, she told Kaiser Health News.

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