More than 17,000 La. residents signup for ACA

In Louisiana, 17,548 people have enrolled in health insurance plans through the HealthCare.gov marketplace as of Dec. 28, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday afternoon.

The signup surge is a big increase from the nearly 2,200 enrolled at the end of November when website problems were more rampant, but still well below overall Affordable Care Act goals and projections.

Nearly 44,000 people have completed insurance applications, but fewer than half of them have selected a final plan.

“We have seen the complaints about the computer system dropping significantly, and the back-office material that we’re receiving from the government is improving as well. It’s not by any means perfect at this point, but it’s much better,” John Maginnis, spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, told the Associated Press.

Two companies are offering insurance plans on the marketplace in every parish across Louisiana: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and the Louisiana Health Cooperative. Vantage Health Plan is offering coverage for most parishes.

Of those enrolled in the state, 59 percent are females, which is the second-largest gender divide in the nation after Mississippi, which has 61 percent female enrollment.

Nationwide, nearly 2.2 million people have selected plans from the state and federal marketplaces by Dec. 28,

Halfway through the six-month enrollment period for private marketplace health insurance, just one in four new adult enrollees are between ages 18 and 34, the crucial demographic group whose participation rates are key to keeping monthly premiums affordable under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In the first release of extensive demographic data about the new enrollee population, the Obama administration said Monday that 55 percent, or roughly 1.2 million of the nearly 2.2 million people who have selected a federal or state marketplace plan, are generally older adults, ranging in age from 45 to 64.

About 517,000, or 24 percent, of the new enrollees were young adults ages 18 to 34.

This group of younger, typically healthy plan members is cheaper to insure and would offset the coverage costs for older plan members, who are generally sicker and costlier to cover.

Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health, a health care consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., told McClatchy Washington Bureau that the early rush of older plan members isn’t a problem — yet.

“I look at this and say it’s a modestly negative sign, but it is not an indication of failure by any means at this point,” Mendelson said. “It’s older than what you want to see from an underwriting perspective, but if the younger population accelerates their enrollment between now and March 31, there won’t be a major problem.”

About 82 percent of those in plans in Louisiana are receiving federal financial assistance through the health care law, compared to a 79 percent national average.

In Louisiana, 60 percent of those enrolled selected silver-level health care plans. About 20 percent chose bronze plans, 13 percent went with gold coverage and 7 percent selected platinum plans.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, was among those pointing out that the health care law has led to more insurance plan cancelations thus far than new HealthCare.gov enrollees. “This does not bode well for the long-term viability of the law,” he said.

Cassidy filed the new Health Insurance Accountability Act bill on Monday that would repeal “Obamacare” if more Americans are left uninsured than there were prior to the law.

Millions of more people are getting insured nationwide through the Medicaid expansion in the law. Gov. Bobby Jindal has rejected the expansion in Louisiana, which would insure about 265,000 more residents. Although the federal government pays for the full cost of the expansion for three years, Jindal has contended it would prove too costly in the long run.

In states where the federal government is running the health care exchange marketplace, New Orleans is the city with the 17th most uninsured residents. Dallas, Houston, Miami and Atlanta are the top four.

White House officials were quick to praise the new numbers reported Monday as good news that the website is working and that millions of people are beginning to enroll in health coverage.

They also contend that enough young people in the nation are starting to sign up to make the exchanges more solvent. The argument is that enough younger, healthier people need to sign up in order to keep insurance prices lower for everyone else now that people with preexisting medical conditions cannot be denied coverage.

In Louisiana, 27 percent of the enrollees are in the coveted 18- to 34-year-old age bracket, which is just slightly more than the national average. The goal is to get that number closer to 40 percent by the end of the open enrollment period.

White House Chief of Staff ‎Denis McDonough told The Advocate that the new numbers prove the health care law is doing a “good job” of creating health care access and “affordable access.” McDonough also said health care inflation rates are continuing to slow each year.

McDonough emphasized the focus on the sustainability of the marketplace is the “mix” of younger and healthier people enrolled, rather than just the overall amount of people enrolled. “That’s important actuarially so as to ensure lower prices,” he said.

White House Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications Strategy David Simas said the enrollment mix and numbers are right in line with the Massachusetts health care overhaul in 2007.

Simas said the 25 percent of the enrollees being in the 18 to 34 age ranges makes the marketplace relatively solvent, but he said a surge is anticipated, as was the case in Massachusetts. “The news today is solid and good, and we’re going to work to improve it,” Simas said.

McClatchy Washington Bureau and The Associated Press contributed to this report