(Bloomberg) — About 4.2 million people signed up for Obamacare health plans through February as the administration tries to focus the attention of consumers on the March 31 deadline for Americans to enroll.

Youth enrollment continued to expand, with 1.1 million people ages 18 to 34 signed up by March 1, an increase of 268,475 in a month, U.S. health officials said Tuesday in a report. President Barack Obama has made a special effort to appeal to young adults, including exchanging barbs with comedian Zach Galifianakis while pitching the health care law on the actor’s parody web talk-show “Between Two Ferns.”

A survey this week found the number of uninsured dropped since the health care law took effect Jan. 1. About 15.9% of Americans lack coverage this year, down from an all-time high of 18% in 2013, Gallup Inc. said yesterday.

“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 31,” U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 6 million people will sign up this year for private plans under the new insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act. Another 8 million are expected to join Medicaid, which is being expanded in at least 25 states. The goal of the 2010 law is to reduce the country’s estimated 48 million uninsured.

Life changes

After March 31, open enrollment in private plans is closed for 2014 and people can only sign up if they experience life changes such as getting married or losing a job. Americans who don’t carry insurance starting April 1 will be liable for tax penalties of as much as 1% of their income.

The CBO says it expects the government to collect $2 billion in penalties next year.

The new data on enrollment show that about 943,000 people signed up for private plans in February, fewer than the 1.1 million that signed up in January. Administration officials expect a surge of enrollment this month as the deadline approaches, similar to the burst in December, when 1.8 million signed up before an end-of-the-month deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1.

California continues to lead the nation in enrollment, with 869,000 people in private plans. Florida is second with 442,000 — the most of any state that relies on the federal enrollment system, Healthcare.gov.

Government subsidies

The administration said 83% of those who selected a plan are eligible to receive financial assistance to help pay premiums or other plan costs.

About 25% of people who have enrolled are from ages 18 to 34, a key demographic because young adults are generally healthier than older people. Insurers need as many young people on their rolls as possible to balance the cost of caring for older, sicker people and avoid future premium increases.

To that end, the administration is plowing resources into contacting young adults. Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, planned calls today to three radio programs aimed at young people and the White House hosted an event with entrepreneurs, researchers and graduate students that it called “#GeeksGetCovered.” Obama’s appearance on “Between Two Ferns” had drawn 3.9 million viewers before 3 p.m. New York time today at the site that produced it, Funnyordie.com.

The show began with trademark rude questions from Galifianakis — “I have to know, what is it like to be the last black president?” Eventually the two segued to the Affordable Care Act.

“Have you heard of healthcare.gov?” Obama asked the actor best known for his roles in the three “Hangover” movies.

“Here we go,” Galifianakis said, sighing. “OK, let’s get this out of the way. What did you come here to plug?”

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit Adviser content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access