WASHINGTON – The number and composition of Coloradans who have signed up for health insurance on the state exchange is unlikely to meet official projections increasing the possibility that future premium costs would increase substantially.
With less than a month to go before the enrollment period ends for this year, fewer than 85,000 Coloradans have signed up for health insurance.
The number falls far below the 125,000 to 140,000 participants that are needed, Connect for Health Colorado Director Patty Fontneau told USA Today in a September interview.
The state health marketplace would need more than 40,000 Coloradans to enroll in the next 30 days to meet the lower end of the estimate, a surge unlikely given that 17,000 signed up in February.
State and federal officials differed on the exact number of how many Coloradans have signed up for Obamacare. Spokespeople for Connect for Health Colorado, the state-based exchange, said 84,881 had enrolled. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for the federal exchange and collects national data, said 83,469 had signed up.
Of the Coloradans who signed up, just 23 percent were young adults. The share of 18 to 34 year olds was less than even the worst-case scenario of 25 percent that an analyst for Kaiser Family Foundation outlined in a paper last December.
A spokesperson for OnSight Public Affairs, the public relations firm that represents Connect for Health Colorado, did not return a call for comment.
The federal figures showed that 4.2 million individuals had signed up for health insurance through March 1 and of those 26 percent were young adults. The Affordable Care Act requires the uninsured to obtain coverage by the end of March or pay a penalty of $95 or one percent of their income. Those who make less than 400 percent of the federal level of $11,670 for an individual are eligible for a subsidy.
Although federal officials said they expect young adults to enroll in greater numbers in the last month of sign-ups for 2014, they are unlikely to make the target of seven million that the Congressional Budget Office predicted.
HHS officials did not explain away the low-enrollment totals. In contrast to previous releases, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described rather than commented on the figures. “Now, during this final month of open enrollment our message to the American people is this: you still have time to get covered, but you’ll want to sign up today – the deadline is March 31st,” she said in a statement.
Fifteen percent of residents in Colorado and the United States do not have health-insurance coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In contrast to Sebelius, a Colorado state official expressed satisfaction with the state’s progress at signing up individuals for health care policies. “We are pleased with our continued success at enrolling uninsured Coloradans into coverage,” said Susan E. Birch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.
The lower than expected enrollment figures among young adults is likely to result in a spike in health care premium costs, according to Larry Leavitt, an analyst with the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Even in the worst-case scenario, insurers would still be expected to earn profits, and would then likely raise premiums in 2015 to make up the difference,” Leavitt wrote in a paper for the foundation.
Although the enrollment period began last October, parts of the enrollment and administration of the law remain up in the air. Neither the state nor the federal figures disclosed the number of people who have paid for health insurance.
In addition, OnSight Public Affairs did not guarantee that those who fail to sign up by March 31 would have to pay a tax, saying they “will likely incur a fine.”