If people are waiting until the last minute to buy health insurance on the new Obamacare marketplaces, they really are waiting until the last possible minute. The latest official government figures show that 4.2 million people bought health insurance on the online exchanges as of March 1.
Just three weeks remain until the March 31 deadline to buy insurance on the exchanges. The Obama administration had been hoping for the 7 million people that the Congressional Budget Office had forecast would sign up in this first year. The CBO later revised that down to 6 million.
"We expect that even more will sign up as we approach the March 31st deadline," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters on a conference call.
And about a quarter of the new signups are in the coveted 18-34 year old age group, the new figures from the Health and Human Services Department show. That’s lower than the 40 percent target. Insurance companies want lots of young, presumably healthy, customers to pay premiums to offset the spending on older, sicker clients.
The health insurance exchanges are the centerpiece of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. They are designed to be a way to get high-quality health insurance to the estimated 45 million Americans who lack it.
But it’s not clear just how many of those signing up were without insurance before.
The White House is heading up a last-ditch push to get the word out about the exchanges and and their hefty subsidies. More than 80 percent of people who have signed up qualify for federal help in paying premiums, Tuesday’s data shows.
This week’s theme for the enrollment push from the White House: #GeeksGetCovered, aimed at entrepreneurs, researchers, and graduate and postdoctoral students. “These folks may be poised to launch America’s next great company, develop a life-saving drug treatment, or uncover a game changing scientific breakthrough, and they benefit from enrollment in quality, affordable health care," a White House official said.
President Barack Obama also made an appeal to young adults in an appearance with comedian Zach Galifianakis on the website Funny or Die. "Healthcare.gov works great now," he asserted. That video is now the No. 1 source of referrals to Healthcare.gov, Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for HHS's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters. She said 19,000 people went straight from the video to the website.
First published March 11 2014, 1:03 PM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBCNews.com and TODAY.com, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.