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Health, Science & Tech

PA Health Insurance Enrollment Numbers Outpace National Average, But Young People Still Missing

The United States Department of Health and Human Services released Monday the latest enrollment data for state and federal health insurance marketplaces.

Nationally, nearly 2.2 million people have signed up for private health insurance plans through the marketplace, with almost 1.8 million people signing up in December alone.

For Pennsylvania, that shakes out out to about 81,000 people who have purchased health insurance through the federal marketplace since its troubled launch in October.

While that’s less than 7 percent of the state’s total uninsured population, Bill England, Pennsylvania state director for the nonprofit group Get Covered America, said it’s “a great start.”

The data show that England’s characterization is not just hyperbole. Nationwide, new enrollments represent less than 5 percent of the total uninsured population. While Pennsylvania is home to around 4 percent of Americans, only 2.5 percent of the country’s uninsured live in the commonwealth. The 81,000 Pennsylvanians who have signed up for healthcare through the exchange represent 3.6 percent of the total number of enrollments nationwide, which suggests that uninsured Pennsylvanians are signing up at a faster pace than uninsured Americans as a whole.

According to the federal data, nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvanians who have signed up received some sort of financial assistance to pay for monthly premiums.

The data also show that about 24 percent of Pennsylvanians who signed up were in the coveted 18-34 age range, which is consistent with the numbers nationwide.

The federal government and policy experts have said that about 40 percent of those covered under the insurance marketplace need to be in that younger age range in order for the marketplaces to really work.

That’s because young people tend to be healthier, and will likely use their insurance less often than older folks. The premiums paid by 18-34 year olds will subsidize the insurance coverage of people in older age groups.

“In the long term the program is going to work best with a good mix of all ages in it,” said England. “There are no short term problems with the fact that about one in four Pennsylvanians enrolled are under the age of 35. So we are definitely on our way to enrolling the kind of numbers that we would like to see in the program.”

England said many people aren’t signing up simply because they don’t know enough about the Affordable Care Act.

“Like most Americans, they have just not had enough information to know how the program works, know the fact that there is financial assistance,” said England. “It’s a matter of finding and educating them and helping them to enroll.”

One of the places England’s team has been finding those young people is on community colleges throughout the commonwealth.

“We’ve got a presence on a growing number of campuses where we’re just getting out and we’re canvassing, we’re providing information to people in the age group,” said England.

He also said they’re reaching out to people who work in the service industry, who are more likely to be young and uninsured.

Health insurance exchange enrollment numbers are available online at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s website.