More people are enrolling in private insurance through Delaware's new health care marketplace, but officials say the long-term success will depend on more young adults signing up for coverage.

 

The insurance marketplaces, based in each state, are mainstays of the Affordable Care Act. It's where individuals can compare and shop for private health insurance, access income-based subsidies, and find out whether they may be eligible for other health programs, including Medicaid. 

As of last week, 3,183 people in Delaware had signed up for coverage, up from 793 in mid-December. 

The new statistics are part of the latest marketplace update from Delaware's Department Health and Social Services, which has obtained the first breakdown of enrollees' ages and geographic location.

Those between the ages of 51 to 64 dominated, making up nearly half of all sign-ups.

"It was actually something we were not surprised by," says Rita Landgraf, department secretary. "We expected that this age group would be the first during the early enrollment stages to apply for health insurance."

With a smoothed out website and enrollment process, Landgraf said, the state is moving into "phase two" of its outreach efforts.

So far, about one in seven enrollees are in the 21-to-30 age group. Landgraf said that means her team will need to be "much more aggressive" in marketing to that demographic. For the marketplace to succeed over the long term, she said, it will need more young people signing on to spread the risk and lower costs.

Delaware has a head start. DHSS launched an "accidents happen" campaign last fall, featuring radio and TV ads of young people doing 'typical' young people things – skateboarding, playing basketball, crowd surfing at concerts – and then highlighting the potential costs of medical treatments from unanticipated injuries.

In recent weeks, Landgraf's team organized two more focus groups, to help tweak the messaging as they consider ways to target parents. Expect to see a bigger presence at malls, college campuses and other places where young people hang out, Landgraf said.

Landgraf, however, isn't discouraged by the sign-up numbers. In fact, she's describes herself as hopeful, knowing that 13 percent of enrollees are young adults. She thinks the March 31 deadline, when open enrollment ends and penalties for not having insurance kick in, will help spur more sign-ups.

Delaware's recent Medicaid enrollment numbers, however, tell a slightly different story. The state deemed 1,058 people eligible under its expansion, and half were younger than 40. Landgraf warns the marketplace has incorrectly told several thousand more people they're eligible for Medicaid. Her department is working to address the problem.

DHSS hopes to enroll 35,000 people in the new marketplace. It estimates 90,000 people in Delaware are uninsured, with up to a third now eligible for Medicaid.