The Startling Number That May Spell Doom For Obamacare

The White House has a big problem: A surprisingly low number of people under the age of 35 have enrolled in Obamacare. It's still too early to tell how many people have actually enrolled, but some estimates report as little as 19% of new sign ups have been young people

This is critical because, if the Affordable Care Act is to properly work, it must be fueled by youth enrollment.   

Open enrollment for the ACA has now lasted two months. The initial verdict? After a disastrous beginning sign-up rates are mixed, but not great. According to CNN, over 130,000 individuals have signed up using state-run health care portals, with almost half of those coming in the last two weeks – a sign that enrollment is indeed picking up as things get sorted out. Enrollments through the federally run Healthcare.gov, however, are still lagging. CNN estimates that less than 50,000 have signed up using President Barack Obama’s website. And for an administration with a goal of 7 million sign-ups by the end of March, it’s clear the pace needs to pick up. 

But who knows, maybe the website will be functional (or at least 80% functional) by the end of the month, and enrollments will continue to rise at an increasing rate. Maybe it doesn’t matter that 40% of the website’s backend still needs to be built. Maybe Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have full faith and confidence in their ability to get the necessary amount of health care sign ups before the deadline.

The next question, then, is exactly who is signing up. The crux of the Affordable Care Act relies on enough young people signing up (i.e., millennials) to balance out the middle-aged and elderly enrollees. See, the old folks receiving health insurance under Obamacare are the ones who will actually be using their insurance – young people won’t, because they’re typically healthier and require less medical care. So their low costs balance out the high costs of older enrollees. If not enough young people sign up, then health insurance costs rise, and that’s something the Obama administration definitely doesn’t want.

Estimates by the Congressional Budget Office predicted 38% of Obamacare enrollees would be people between the ages of 18 and 34. Are the numbers on track? It might be too early to tell. In the data available, CNN reveals only 19% of Kentucky enrollees were under 35, with only slightly higher figures in Connecticut and Washington. If these state totals are any indication of the Healthcare.gov numbers, which the Obama administration hasn’t released yet, Obamacare could be in trouble.

Again, it’s still early in the process (especially considering the wreck that was the first few weeks) and there is time for trends to pick up before March. But as the numbers stand right now, Obama definitely has some work to do if the Affordable Care Act is to work out the way he wants. Sign ups on the whole need to rise, but more importantly, he needs to get millennials enrolled. Or this whole thing could come crumbling down.


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Benjamin Cosman

Ben graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Political Science. He recently traveled through New England looking for pie. His second-favorite pastime is googling pictures of politicians laughing.

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