As federal officials predicted, the flood of Americans trying to sign up for health insurance by the end of 2013 ended in a tidal wave. About 1.8 million people enrolled in new individual health plans through the law in December, bringing new enrollments through Dec. 28 to about 2.2 million.
The number of signups through HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange website that has been hobbled by technical difficulties, peaked toward the end of the year, according to a report released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services. The number of Americans who selected plans through the federal exchange in December was seven times higher than those who signed up in October and November combined, according to HHS.
On a call with reporters Monday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said HealthCare.gov is now “working smoothly” and that the federal government was encouraged by the late surge. “Among young adults, the momentum was particularly strong,” she said. According to HHS, 30% of those who signed up for individual market health plans under Obamacare in 2013 were 34 or younger.
Federal officials had previously said that 2.7 million Americans between 18 and 35 would need to sign up for new plans to ensure that the pool of 7 million expected exchange enrollees would be balanced enough to keep insurance premiums in check. The figures released Monday indicate that the pace of enrollment among young people needs to accelerate to achieve that goal.
“We expect an increase in the proportion of young adults” signing up in 2014, said Michael Hash, director of HHS’s office of health reform. Another HHS official said Monday that about one-third of new insurance plans bought through the exchanges were for Americans ages 55 to 64. According to the new HHS data, 54% of new enrollees were female and 46% were male.
The current open enrollment for new individual health plans lasts until March 31. Those who do not have health insurance by that date could face federal fines, depending on their past health insurance and financial situations and whether they qualify for waivers from the so-called individual mandate.
In addition to attracting more young people, federal officials have said they hope more Spanish speakers will sign up for coverage under the law. A Spanish-language version of HealthCare.gov, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, launched in December, but the Associated Press reported Monday that the site is riddled with grammatical errors. Federal officials declined on Monday to say how many people had enrolled in health plans through CuidadoDeSalud.gov. Also unclear is how many enrollees in new health plans have paid their premiums to officially begin coverage. Many insurers allowed consumers to pay January premiums past the original Dec. 31, 2013, deadline.