Washington— A surge of consumers in Michigan and across the nation signed up for federally required health care by the end of last year, giving the White House confidence to predict enough young adults will pay for coverage to make the federal health care law work.
But Republican officials were skeptical of the significance of the data released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services, and said the Affordable Care Act continues to have issues that require fixing.
More than 75,500 Michigan residents signed up for health care on the federal exchange through Dec. 28 — up 11-fold from the end of November and twice the rate of the nationwide increase, according to HHS.
The nation enrolled nearly 2.2 million through December, a 490 percent increase from 365,000 people enrolled through federal and state-run exchanges in October and November. The Great Lakes State’s more than 1,000 percent spike was the third highest growth rate among states using the federal exchange, behind North Carolina and Idaho.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is expected in Metro Detroit on Wednesday to tout health care enrollment, said the new figures reflect consumer demand for the benefits provided by the Affordable Care Act, referred to as Obamacare.
“The numbers show that there is a very strong national demand for affordable care made possible by the Affordable Care Act,” Sebelius said Monday.
The exchanges need younger, healthier people to enroll to ensure the risk pool for insurers isn’t filled with more expensive, older and sicker patients. Nationally, about 24 percent of enrollees are ages 18-34, compared with about 25 percent in Michigan, according to the figures.
The Obama administration Monday praised the young adult enrollment as solid because it’s on par with their proportion in the population and is similar to the trend lines of the exchange launched in Massachusetts, which Obamacare is modeled after. But Republicans were skeptical.
“There’s no way to spin it: Youth enrollment has been a bust so far,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio. “When they see that Obamacare offers high costs for limited access to doctors — if the enrollment goes through at all — it’s no surprise that young people aren’t rushing to sign up.”
The individual policies of an estimated 225,000 Michiganians expired last year for not meeting new health care standards. Many have been redirected to updated plans by their insurer or they can sign up for coverage on the exchanges or seek a hardship exemption — a development that concerns GOP Michigan U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land.
“We have a lot of issues out there yet that have not been addressed,” Land said Monday.
But White House officials anticipate an uptick in young adult sign-ups through the March 31 enrollment period deadline, with a new advertising campaign underway. The White House released Monday the top 25 media markets the campaign will target, based on high levels of uninsured people in states on the federal exchange. Detroit was No. 9 on the list.
Initial projections pegged total enrollment by March 31 at 7 million, with about 2.7 million young people — or about 39 percent.
“There’s no magic number overall,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said Monday. “... I believe the most important thing is the mix of relatively younger and healthier as against relatively older and less healthy.”
Larry Levitt, senior vice president of special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy analysis organization, said Monday the enrollment figures are promising.
“The insurance market will be stable with an enrollment mix like this,” said Levitt, who has studied the enrollment mix, in a statement. “But heightened outreach to young people, and even more importantly healthy people, will help to keep premiums down.”
Michigan uses the federally run exchange that serves 36 states in which consumers can search and purchase health care plans.
The HealthCare.gov website, which consumers use to research plans and sign up for coverage, was dogged in its first two months by technical problems and outages.
Don Hazaert, director of Michigan Consumers for Healthcare, the lead agency for the federally certified navigators who are helping consumers sign up, said he expects more young adults to log on to HealthCare.gov now that technical glitches are fixed.
“I think as word gets out that it’s working, they’ll come back,” he said.
Staff Writers Karen Bouffard and David Shepardson contributed.