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Tales from the PPACA plan surge

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Bloomberg) — More than 1 million people waited until the last five days to sign up for individual “qualified health plan” (QHP) coverage through the new public exchange system.

Early indications are that many Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) plan procrastinators were young, insurance analysts and enrollment groups said.

That may be good news for health insurers. Insurers have been conceerned about signs that the early PPACA exchange “qualified health plan” (QHP) enrollees were older and sicker than expected.

The official PPACA individual QHP open enrollment period started Oct. 1 in most of the country and officially ended in most of the country Monday.

Insurance companies hope the last-minute volume brought in younger and healthier customers, according to Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans.

“There has always been the assumption that those with urgent medical needs would sign up first and that the young and healthy would sign up at the end,” he said yesterday in an e- mail. “We’ll find out soon if that hypothesis was true.”

QHP watchers expect the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release at least some QHP enrollee demographic information later this month.

Groups working on enrollment provided anecdotal evidence that the latecomers were younger than than the consumers who signed up earlier.

In Alabama, Daniel Liss, the co-founder of Bama Covered, which coordinated student volunteers to promote enrollment, said many of the initial applicants in his state were women. Latecomers tended to be male and young.

“You definitely had a younger demographic in the last week or two,” he said in a phone interview. “I was in Mobile last week and all of the employees of this one bar came in together, because the cook had gotten a plan for twenty bucks.”

There was a similar dynamic in Mississippi, said Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program in Jackson.

Mitchell said a combination of word-of-mouth publicity and a television advertisement featuring an injured — and previously uninsurable – roofer began to draw men.

“We were seeing a lot of males come in during those final weeks, who were walking out and grinning and as happy as could be, because of the subsidies and how low the premiums were,” he said in a phone interview. “Some had never had insurance before.”

In Forth Worth, Texas, volunteers at the United Way of Tarrant County saw more Hispanics coming in as the deadline neared, said Tim McKinney, the organization’s president. The number of people seeking help enrolling got so heavy in the final weeks the group had to stop allowing walk-ins and required everyone to make an appointment, he said.

Unlike other organizations, though, McKinney said the United Way hasn’t seen a shift toward younger enrollees. Most of those signing up in the final days have been over 45, he said.

–With assistance from Margaret Newkirk in Atlanta.

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