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Obamacare enrollment continues to increase

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WASHINGTON – Health insurance sign-ups under President Obama’s healthcare law have continued to surge, as more than 1.1 million Americans selected a private plan in January on new marketplaces created by the law.

That brings to nearly 3.3 million the number of Americans who have enrolled in coverage since the marketplaces opened in October, according to new data released by the Obama administration.

California continues to lead the nation with 728,000 enrollees, more than twice as many as the next-highest state, Florida.

The national total was still short of the administration’s goal of 4.4 million enrolled by the end of January.

It remains unclear how many people who have selected a health plan have actually paid and how many did not have insurance previously.

But the latest report provides new evidence that the marketplaces are gaining traction after a disastrous launch last fall.

The new data also suggest that more young people are coming to the marketplaces: 27% of consumers who signed up for a plan in January were between 18 and 34 years old, compared with 24% in the prior three months.

Enrolling younger consumers, who are typically healthier, is considered critical to the success of the marketplaces because healthier consumers, who cost less, help balance insurer risk. That is necessary to control insurance premiums. 

At the same time, a new national survey indicates that the share of Americans with health coverage rose to the highest point since the Great Recession in 2008. Just 16% of Americans lacked coverage in January, compared with 18% last year, according to the Gallup poll.

Pollsters cautioned that the measure of insurance coverage is volatile, but they noted that if the trend continues, it may suggest the health law is having an impact.

Administration officials hailed the latest numbers as evidence that the law is working.

"These encouraging trends show that more Americans are enrolling every day and finding quality, affordable coverage," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The state-based marketplaces -- a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare -- allow Americans who do not get coverage at work to select among plans that offer at least a basic set of benefits and cannot turn away sick people.

Consumers who make less than four times the federal poverty level -- or about $94,000 for a family of four -- qualify for government subsidies to offset the cost of their premiums.

Thus far, 82% of those who have selected a health plan have qualified for subsidies, according to the administration.

The administration had hoped to enroll 7 million people in the marketplaces in 2014. The enrollment period is set to end in March, although there is growing speculation that the president may extend enrollment because of the botched rollout of the HealthCare.gov website.

noam.levey@latimes.com

Twitter: @NoamLevey

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Laws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeAffordable Care Act (Obamacare)Barack ObamaConsumersInsurance
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