Moneybox

Some Holiday Cheer for Obamacare

Somebody’s pleased.

Reuters

So, I wanted to flag some news that dropped Tuesday while I was busy pondering the semiotic significance of General Tso’s chicken. With the deadline for Jan. 1 coverage having just passed, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that 8.2 million Americans have signed up for health plans on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, compared with about 6.4 million at the same time during last year’s open enrollment period. The number of first-timers has grown too—about 2.4 million customers who picked plans on the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, were new, versus 1.8 million last year.

Since open enrollment is still going on, this all seems to suggest that HHS’s original estimate that 10 million people would ultimately sign up and keep a health plan bought via the exchanges through the end up 2015 was a bit of a lowball number—though, as always, it’s hard to make predictions. (I’ll leave that to Charles Gaba.)

The other interesting news: More young people are signing up. So far there are 2.1 million enrollees on healthcare.gov under 35 (about 35 percent of the total), up from 1.1 million last time around (or about 33 percent of the total).*

This is a very positive development for the health reform law. One of the big questions lingering over Obamacare has been whether enough young adults, who tend to be healthier, would sign up for coverage, in order to support older, sicker customers and make plans sold on the exchanges profitable and sustainable. So far, many insurers have been losing money on their exchange plans. But these new numbers suggest that the market is gradually becoming more balanced (as Sarah Kliff at Vox notes, the goal is to eventually have 38 percent of enrollees younger than 35). One potential reason why: The tax penalty for not having insurance finally went up to a full $695 this year. I’d also guess more people are simply learning about the law, and deciding to take advantage of it.

*Correction, Dec. 23, 2015: This post originally misstated the percentage of young adults among the health care exchanges’ customers.